03/31/2016

Beit Shean Partnership Celebrated by 400+

Tags: Israel, Federation, PR

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Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

By Jonah L. Rosenblum

Bobby Goldberg looked out at the crowd – 400-plus, many streaming out of the Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Stonehill Auditorium, some still dancing to lively Israeli music – as the Jewish Federation of Cleveland celebrated 20 years of friendship and partnership with Beit Shean.

The former Federation chair was there at the beginning, literally, as he embarked on the first exploratory trip to Beit Shean.

Could he believe what he had helped create – Cleveland singers and performers joining Israeli singers and performers and hundreds of Clevelanders voyaging to Beit Shean annually?

“It’s not hard to believe because I always wanted it this way,” Goldberg said.

Beit Shean’s leadership, the city’s mayor, Rafael Ben-Sheetrit, and the Valley of Springs Regional Council head, Yoram Karin, testified to the partnership’s importance.

Ben-Sheetrit, through a translator, hailed a “miraculous friendship and partnership” while Karin praised a relationship that has allowed Americans and Israelis alike to “feel at home” across the ocean (and more) that divide the two countries. Indeed, former subcommittee chair Cindy Attias said two of her kids now live in Israel and they know that any time they need a hot meal, they can always find one in Beit Shean.

But 20 years of work has created more than an exchange program – it has created myriad programs intended to help grow the Beit Shean and Valley of Springs region.

“You have left your imprints on every corner of the region,” Karin said.

That imprint has been made through Greater Clevelanders who have descended on the region to volunteer – in many cases helping local children work on their English.

It has been made through 196 at-risk children being mentored in Beit Shean through the Youth Futures program.

It has been made through Israel.Cleveland.Next, which allows teens from Beit Shean and Cleveland to meet and get to know each other’s cultures.

“Every time I go to Israel, I know I will have a friend to visit and a friendship to discover,” said Gabe Segar, a senior at Shaker Heights High School. “Developing relationships with teens our age in Beit Shean was the highlight of the program.”

And now it has the potential to boost Cleveland in a big way, according to Jewish Federation of Cleveland president Stephen H. Hoffman. He said March 30 that some of the urban development methods used in Beit Shean will be implemented in five Cleveland neighborhoods, including St. Clair.

But the event was as musical as it was speech-based. The anthems of both countries were sung, the Playmakers Youth Theatre showed off a warm-up game they use to loosen up and Lior Balavie, a Beit Shean resident accompanied by two acoustic guitarists, performed for approximately 20 minutes.

Attendees and speakers stressed that the 20-year partnership is nowhere near over.

“It’s not a culmination,” Attias said. “It’s a continuation.”

That’s certainly the case for 14-year-old Fuchs Mizrachi student Raanan Lindenberg. The HaZamir choir member, sharply outfitted in a pristine black bowtie, is headed to New York this weekend to perform with HaZamir at Carnegie Hall.

“I’m very excited,” Lindenberg said.

Lindenberg said he has already made many Israeli friends through the program, some of whom he still keeps in contact with via text.

This weekend, as the partnership enters its 21st year, Lindenberg will likely make more, perhaps including a few of his fellow performers from Beit Shean.


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