Dalit Fresco attended the February 2009 two-day event with Maharaji in Tel Aviv, Israel. Later, she interviewed people who arranged the event and the follow up. Here is her story:
Tuesday, February 10th was an unusually stormy day in Israel — with high waves in the normally calm Mediterranean Sea, trees that seemed to almost bend down to the ground, and all the windows on my sea-front hotel were rattling and shrieking as heavy hail was falling through the night. Yet the rain was a welcome relief after months of drought.
Camal and his wife, as well as eight friends from small towns in Palestine, were all waiting to find out if their applications to cross the border to attend a two-day event with Maharaji in Tel Aviv would be granted. Palestinians are not easily allowed to visit Israel; these are mostly rare medical cases or a few work permits.
The next morning, I woke up to a beautiful, warm and sunny day. Nothing but a gentle breeze has remained from the big storm.
That evening 1,000 people gathered at the Smolarz Performing Arts Center at Tel Aviv University for a public event with Maharaji. Camal, his wife, and all of their eight friends — who were learning about Maharaji's Knowledge — were among them. The atmosphere was of focused anticipation, and Maharaji was greeted with a very warm welcome and ovation.
I talked to Francoise Florsheim, who has been helping to make Maharaji's message available in Israel for more than 30 years, and asked her a few questions:
"Well, security has always been an issue in Israel. Even now, a cease-fire in Gaza was reached just days before the event.
"We also saw a shift in Israeli society where, unlike in the past when it was mostly pre-occupied with itself as a nation, people now are more comfortable dealing with issues that concern them as individuals. Two things really made a big difference: the availability of the ‘Keys’ — the series of DVDs people can listen to if they want to prepare to learn the techniques of Knowledge that Maharaji offers — and the TV broadcasts of his talks from around the world both really made the whole learning process simpler, more personal, something one can do on their own, at their own pace. So this opened up the event to a much broader audience. We saw many more people responding to this neutral approach, getting interested, and really looking forward to meeting Maharaji.
"Also until recently, the only option to attend events with Maharaji was going abroad. And that is expensive (any flight may cost as much as a month's salary) and a cumbersome ordeal. So over the years, less and less people were able to travel and keep in touch with Maharaji personally.
"For many others, the thirst has grown deeper, and they were waiting with great longing."
"The feeling just before the first evening was truly magical. I think it was that long wait, that thirst to listen, to spend some time together.
"Most of the guests were people who had already been watching Maharaji on TV and were familiar with his message. That was different from last April's event, when a lot of the guests were friends and relatives of Maharaji’s students. Others were returning for a second time to learn more. So there was less curiosity and more focus, and it seemed to allow Maharaji to take his message even deeper right away, without the need for a lengthy warm-up."
"We have almost 2,000 people on our mailing list. And we use all methods of communication — mail, email, and we personally call and let people know about this opportunity. We also produced — in fact the TV channel did it for us — a 30 sec. promo with excerpts from the last events giving all the details to the WOP viewers. We know that this particular channel that runs WOP episodes almost daily has 100,000 subscribers. So it would have been hard to miss the promo. Right now, the channel is interested in putting an even longer segment about Maharaji to promote all its programs.
"But there were some unique stories as well, like this young man, an Israeli-Arab from the northern city of Haifa, who is studying TV Journalism in Tel Aviv. He heard about Maharaji from his relative, who lives in Italy, and started watching WOP on TV. For his final project, he came up with the idea to produce a short news clip announcing a visit to Israel by Maharaji — not knowing that this in fact was happening! So as he presents this to his fellow students, one person, who happened to be Maharaji's student, got up and with tears in his eyes saying, ‘Do you realize it's true?’ So there they were, the young person together with his whole family. And this is the place to mention something that occurred at this event for the very first time: a person who is an English-Arabic teacher offered to come all the way from Australia to provide simultaneous translation from English to Arabic, specifically to meet the needs of this family, Camal, and the other Arabic-speaking people who otherwise would not understand the Hebrew translation.
"Yes, it does take a lot of people to help, since these events are all done by volunteers. Last April we got a lot of help from volunteers from Europe, and since that was a four-day event, their help was very welcome. However, this year local volunteers really stepped up in terms of taking more responsibility.
"We spent a lot of time during the past two years building and developing local teams that could take charge of all the areas — from registration to distributing materials, to AV and more.
"One person, who expressed his sincere feelings to Maharaji at a previous event, said he hasn't been in touch in the last thirty years and is hesitant to resume his involvement, mainly because now he owns a business, has a family, and might not have time to go places to hear Maharaji speak. Maharaji then explained all the ways he could keep in touch from the comfort of his home via the internet, and that he could follow his heart without sacrificing his commitments. This person volunteered to manage the lobby area during the event, and when that was ready — a beautiful, calm and very inviting setting, with small flowers on every table — he introduced himself to the event manager, who then trained him, so that next time he will be able to oversee the entire technical side of running the event. The fact that we now have a Service Area Manager (SAM) in Israel, who is trained in organizing and caring for volunteers, also freed up the area managers to concentrate on their tasks, and helped make the preparation and participation during the event a much more enjoyable experience. Now these people want to continue and are enthusiastic about preparations for next time."
"We really do want to take advantage of the great efforts that Maharaji himself is investing in such visits.
"We had learned from previous events that a follow-up meeting did not yield a great steady response. So this time, we prepared gift bags with various materials and information that were handed personally to guests as they were leaving the hall. There was also a desk with information, and some twenty people took the DVDs for learning more, with an additional 22 who later signed up online to receive the DVDs from the lending library, and this is still going on.
"We intend to really concentrate on strengthening our teams, and the teamwork seminars that some of us participated in during the years are very beneficial, as well as the SAM training.
"The fact that we have our own leased hall in the center of Tel Aviv allows us to have on-going team meetings, sessions for people to be taught the techniques of Knowledge, Knowledge reviews, and so on. We had such a meeting recently in which people were simply invited to come, brainstorm and choose the areas they wanted to help in. The whole atmosphere and the response were beautiful, sincere and committed.
"People in small communities throughout Israel, including in the Israeli-Arab sector, are very committed to continue introducing people to the TV broadcasts, and we are looking to expand these to more mainstream channels.
"We are also looking into many possible locations, including outdoors — like the event we had in the Park outside Tel Aviv last year — expanding the possibilities of an ‘event’ outside the box. There are ancient amphitheaters in Israel, beautiful parks and natural serene locations that are all very accessible from anywhere in Israel."
"Finally, I would like to share an email from a guest who came to hear Maharaji for the first time:
I heard many times during my life about the importance of the breath. I studied physiology, yoga, meditation, etc. But I have never heard a point of view quite like Maharaji's. I enjoy listening to him, and I enjoy his sense of humor. I would certainly like to be in a place where I can feel inner peace and tranquility more then fleeting sparks here and there.