Clevelanders Make IMPACT! in Beit Shean

Tags: Federation, Blog, Israel, Overseas, Volunteer

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Jewish Cleveland IMPACT! volunteers are spending two weeks in Cleveland's sister city of Beit Shean, Israel, volunteering in the community and immersing themselves in Israeli culture. Check out photos and blogs from their experience below:

February 21, 2017

by Eti Ganin

Today is the first full day of our mission to Beit Shean and here are all 15 of our members on Mount Gilboa! We had a busy day starting with visiting one of the first Tower and Stockade – fortified settlement – established in 1936. It took one day to establish the kibbutz and it worked in preventing the Arab rebellion mob from destroying it.

I can't avoid comparing the fortified settlements circa 1936 with the ones of 2017. The circumstances are different, but not much has changed. Without delving into deep political discussions, we watched the documentary and listened to our guide. He was very funny and open minded. He made a "confession" which I liked to hear: "the Israelis finally realized that diaspora Jewish community is as essential for our national survival as Israel herself is."

We met with the team at the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership 2Gether office and learned about the partnership with Cleveland. We felt proud of our city and of Beit Shean. Efi Mazor (one of the Partnership staff members) is taking such great care of us and the whole team is phenomenal. They couldn't have done a better job.

The highlight of the day was Mt. Gilboa with its fantastic views of the Valley of the Springs and Jordan. Avigail (another Partnership staff member) guided us on the mountain and even made us enact a scene described in the Torah. We read passages about King Saul, who lost a battle with the Philistines and was killed on this mountain.

It's hard to imagine a deeper or more meaningful connection with our history than what we felt today on Mt Gilboa. Tomorrow is another exciting day. I will participate in my first archeological dig on a new and rich site of an ancient synagogue. Yahoo!

Talk to you tomorrow

Love from Beit Shean
Eti (pictured at the bottom left)

February 23, 2017 - Part 1

by Susan Hurwitz

A sunny, chilly morning, the odor of cow manure from the barns wafting in the air and my new friends gathering in the Guest House eating breakfast: our fourth day in Beit Shean begins.

After packing our lunches we board our transportation to our various volunteer assignments.

Judy, Arthur, John and I (accompanied by our Israeli based rep, Efi) head to the ORT middle/high school to converse with the students. We begin in a high level English class, working in small groups talking about driving-age, eligibility, laws- and the kids' attitudes about these issues. Two more small groups follow with varying degrees of English prowess but great fun and pleasure on both sides.

A quick bite of our packed lunch and we reconvene with our entire group of 15 for our afternoon adventure. First stop, a tourist attraction called Springs Park where we use golf carts to explore acres of gorgeous terrain and a few of the over forty natural springs. The water in these springs remains the same temperature in all seasons and people swim in them year round. Couples cuddling and a group of young men jumping in the water add to the fun. Gigantic agricultural fields, owned by various kibbutzim, surround the park. Crops grow beautifully in the area because of the rich soil, irrigation and climate.

Then we head to the new train station! This station provides high speed service between Beit Shean and northern cities like Afula and Haifa. It is the final north/south link connecting the entire country by rail and the hope, for Beit Shean, of a vibrant future! The goal was to attract both industry and population to this rural community and in the five months that it has been operating it is attracting 5,000 riders daily in an area with a population of 30,000 people. The aspirations are very much alive!

Whew! Stop at the shopping center in town where they have a farmer's market on Thursday afternoons and enjoy some cheese, pastries and locally brewed beer. Back to the kibbutz to clean up for dinner, which is hosted by local families. We will visit in groups of three and get acquainted with more people who live here.

Denise, Brian Butvin and I are picked up by our hostess, Yael Goldblatt, an art therapist in the town of Beit Shean. We drive to her home, at the top of Mt. Gilboa, in Kibbutz Maraav, where she lives with her husband and youngest son, Aharon and a large dog and unfriendly cat. As we enjoy the dinner we discuss everything from Aharon's upcoming trip to Cleveland as a youth ambassador, to the American Goldschmidt's arrival in Israel thirty years ago as young, single secular Jews, to their current life as a couple with four children living on an Orthodox kibbutz, to the privatization of the majority of kibbutzim in the area and in Israel. After much laughter and a terrific visit Talia drives us back for a good nights sleep.

Each day is richer, with great experiences and growing friendships. I feel so fortunate to be able to participate! And tomorrow is another day!

February 23, 2017 - Part 2

by Mary Kaufman

Today was our first day volunteering. Denise, Jean and I volunteered at the elementary school. We first met with the teachers who shared information about what our role was to be in the classroom. We introduced ourselves first then split into three groups with about six students in each group. We then had conversations with the students in English. I told them about myself, and then asked them to tell me about themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed this time with the children and overall I thought they had a fairly good grasp of the English language.

In the afternoon we toured an Orthodox kibbutz. They have a very successful Bio Bee Program that ships bees to other parts of the world to help with pollination. The also exported an organic farming program that teaches farmers in other countries how to organically control crop pest infestations.

At the end of the day, we went to an Iranian home for dinner where we helped make an Iranian and Moroccan dinner feast! The abundance of food was amazing and it was all quite delicious.

Overall, the day was wonderful! I learned so much about the Beit Shean area and continue to be amazed at the commitment, resourcefulness and productivity of the Israel people.

I end the day tired, but looking forward to seeing the students tomorrow and experiencing more of Beit Shean.


February 24, 2017

by Michael Shon

Who doesn't love an afternoon nap before Shabbat?

After a busy week Friday started out with a bus trip to the museum in Beit Shean. Our daily guide and Projects Manager, Efi Mazor, translated the private tour given by the museum director who happened to be his father. His father began to direct the museum after a 40 year career in education. We were shown around the outside areas also.

From the museum, we stroll down an architecturally beautiful paved path to a partially restored arena from the times that the Romans occupied the city. Enjoying the beautiful day, our group continued down the beautiful pathway toward our tour of the National Park. Along the way, we were introduced to three teaching fellows from the United States. They are part of a program called Masa ITF and they joined us and explained their role in helping young students and adults improve their English speaking skills.

The National Park includes a Roman city and huge public baths. There are areas dating back to the early Greek era. This site was buried for over 2000 years and was excavated out of a deep mud cover. We were told this was a result of a catastrophic earthquake. However, our examination only lasted an hour and a half because our culture doesn't allow us to miss a meal. We took our bus seats and went for an authentic Israeli falafel lunch. Once again sated, we were off to the Weitzman Winery. Mr. Weitzman himself does the bottling of his own grapes from his own wine vineyard. I drank two glasses of his premium select Cabernet Blend and we were all offered additional tastes of his port wine. As many of us had already had at least one glass of wine, our Partnership Director Dorit Natan-Lavy led us in pre-Shabbat songs to get us in the mood for the Sabbath.

After naptime, we got ready for Shabbat services then dinner. Our evening was concluded with a meeting at our guest house. A discussion was led by Menachem, who is a volunteer Kibbutz Shluchot representative. We participated and learned of the reasons and changes of the kibbutz movement and the continuing appeal of kibbutz lifestyle. We also had a discussion of this week's Torah portion. Cake, cookies, tea of course was provided to sweeten the Shabbat.

A pleasant (good) night
Michael Shon

February 26, 2017

by Arnie and Carol Feltoon

Chodesh tov – a new month

Shavua tov – a new week

And Yom HaMishpacha – Famil Day, a transition from Mother's Day. This is how we started the week here in Beit Shean.

Before our usual 7:15 am breakfast we were at the central bus station of Beit Shean at 5:30 am, greeting the soldiers who were returning to their bases after spending Shabbat at home. Saturday evening after Shabbat we prepared small packages of candy which we distributed to the soldiers, along with prepared bags of fruit and other snacks. One woman, Eti, has been doing this for many years, seeing the soldiers off with something sweet along with hugs and best wishes. She seems to be the de facto social worker for all of Beit Shean, caring for soldiers, finding and helping at-risk youth, working with families in need, the epitome of "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh – All Israel is responsible one for another".

After breakfast our group, the archaeology tract, had a day off from digging. We spent the morning with our leader Dr. Achiya Cohen seeing other archaeological sites across the Valley of Springs. Our site is near Tel Rechov, an area that existed in Talmudic times. While we are helping to uncover a synagogue that existed 1500 years ago, other sites from the same era are also partially uncovered, waiting for the funds to discover what lies below. We learned that there are ruins of the Israelites, Canaanites, pagans, and many other civilizations beneath our feet. We saw mud bricks dating from 840 BCE as just the tip of so much more history below them yet to be discovered.

We traveled to Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv where a tile floor from an ancient synagogue was found in 1974. This is the largest mosaic ever found with continuous words – 365 words, in mosaic tiles, which appears to be the answer to a question of Jewish law, probably concerning the growing of fruits and vegetables during the sabbatical 7th year. The original is in the Jewish museum and the families of the kibbutz took six years to make a 1:1 scale replica of the original mosaic. The original could not stay on the kibbutz as the law says that antiquities must be available to everyone seven days a week. Since the kibbutz is "Dati" (religious) it would not be possible for visitors to come on Shabbat. There was also a piece of marble on display, which was used in the synagogue to divide the sections of the sanctuary.

Our next stop was kibbutz Beit Alfa, established in 1921. During construction another mosaic floor was discovered, and one of the first Jewish excavations in Israel was done in 1923. The mosaic is interesting inasmuch as Helios, the god of the Sun is seen at the center of the mosaic with the symbols of the zodiac around it. It also included biblical themes such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark), and menorah. Apparently in the 6th century CE incorporating Helios and using the signs of the zodiac was common practice as the Jewish people were confronting the Christian world and were influenced by their customs.

We visited Kibbutz Maoz Chai, where one of the kibbutz members who recently died had amassed an amazing collection of artifacts that were found around the kibbutz. The most impressive of the collection for its primitive appearance was a flint that dates back at least 1.5 million years! What an amazing experience it was to touch something that is so ancient.

We wandered the hills of the Valley of Springs and came upon pieces of mosaic tile floors from a monastery hidden amongst the grass we were walking on. As we walked in the hills above the valley there was no way to know what we were going to see, as these areas are not marked and have not been fully excavated due to lack of funding. These bits and pieces of history tell the story of Beit Shean and the people who lived there, as we now learn about today's inhabitants as they strive to flourish as did many civilizations in the past.

We ended our tour and joined up with the rest of the group and traveled to kibbutz Kfar Ruppin near the Jordanian border. We learned that the migration patterns of birds from all over the world includes a stop in Israel. The fish farms which are plentiful in the area attract the birds, but this is also a problem as many of the birds eat the fish, both the healthy fish and the sick or dead fish. They are working on ways of getting the birds away from the fish they are trying to sell. These methods do not include shooting birds, as this is illegal in Israel. We also learned that Israel is the only country in the world that feeds the pelicans. We saw the birds around the fish tanks, but were more impressed with seeing Jordan, just a few miles away. The kibbutz had an army outpost overlooking the Jordan Valley, but with peace between Israel and Jordan, there is no need for a continued military presence there. We heard the muzzin across the way calling the Moslems to prayer. We learned about the cooperation between Israelis and Jordanians thanks to a 20-year peace treaty that allows both sides to thrive.

Our evening activity was at the Ethiopian center in Beit Shean where our host, Chava, first dressed us in typical Ethiopian garb, then presented us with a traditional Ethiopian meal, followed by her own story of leaving her home at the age of 9, walking to Sudan, and finally reaching Eretz Yisrael. Her home is decorated with Ethiopian pictures and a slide show of Ethiopia played while she presented her story to us. We were the third group of the day to be hosted there and hear the story of Chava's journey to the Promised Land.

So we ended our day and returned to Kibbutz Shluchot, our Israeli home away from home. Another full day of adventure is now done. Reluctantly we start to count the days until our return to the US. We are all trying our best to savor what we see, smell, hear and taste. We are becoming very familiar with Emek Hamaynot – the Valley of Springs. We are doing things that one can only do in Eretz Yisrael. With each passing day we feel more at home here, more attached to the land and its people. We can attest that Am Yisrael Chai - the people of Israel live. We can only hope that Beit Shean becomes a destination sight in Israel, that the train will bring visitors from Haifa and all over Israel. We look forward to seeing the Beit Shean staff in Cleveland in a few weeks with their teenage visitors. We look forward to a return to Israel hopefully in the not too distant future, with a visit to Beit Shean to renew friendships and see the changes that will be made.

Thanks to all of the staff in Cleveland for allowing us this unique opportunity, and thanks to all of the staff in the Valley of Springs for being the most amazing hosts, and for sharing this amazing area that they call home, with us.

Arnie and Carol Feltoon

February 27, 2017

by Arthur Lieberman

We began by volunteering in the morning. I went with three others to the combined middle school/high school. We set up chairs in a circle and had several groups of students come and spoke English with them. They were very enthusiastic and interested in Cleveland.

In the afternoon we visited Eden Farm, which is an agricultural research station. We went into greenhouses where new crops and methods were being tried.The most interesting was an experiment to see how little water was necessary for citrus trees.

In the evening, we went to Kurdish Village for an introduction to Kurdish culture and the Kurdish experience in Israel, and dinner.

February 28, 2017

by Barbara Gross

Shalom, shalom from Beit Shean!

Today was another beautiful and busy day for everyone. Our 6 amateur archaeologists made some wonderful finds!! Arnie Feltoon found a large piece of the top of an oil lamp with incredible decorations on it. The group also found a number of coins from the Roman and Byzantine eras. The members of the group continued to dig until they reached the floor of a 1,500 year old synagogue !

One group of high school tutors and their students visited the Beit Shean senior center where they delivered mishloach manot for Purim, gave manicures, styled hair and put make-up on some of the seniors.

Our elementary school English tutors each worked with 3-4 students on their English language skills using a variety of games they made.

The twosome of Marjorie Falk and myself, worked with small groups of students teaching English at another high school in Beit Shean. We're also doing art projects with a group of girls and helped them with a large mosaic project.

After our short rest time at Kibbutz Shluchot we visited an elementary school to to meet and work with children in the Youth Futures program. These children, many of whom are considered at risk, work with mentors who help them with self esteem or behavior issues or deal with difficult dynamics in their families. It must be the season to work with mosaics because everyone in our group of 15 worked with children putting together a ceramic design which will become part of a larger ceramic wall at the school.

We were served yummy falafel before we departed for our next stop at the local library.

The library, managed by Beit Shean resident Eran Moscovits, serves not only as a library, but a community center for children and adults offering reading groups, singing contests, drama classes and special events for the community. Along with the help of 45 volunteers of all ages, Eran is fulfilling his dream of transporting people to other worlds through reading.

Leila Tov
Barbara Gross

March 2, 2017

by Terry Pollack

We are in the last day of the trip. There was a final meeting and evaluation of the experience. The group shared personal insights and recommendations for future missions. We all received diplomas thanking us for our volunteer activities.

I would like to share a personal observation of the experience. Israel is made of a peoplehood of heroes. I am older than the Jewish state and on this mission I have met people who are building the modern Jewish homeland. I know folks who give money to Israeli causes, but the people here give their lives. Some of the heroes work with children who come from broken families; some from families with one parent in jail. Other heroes include poorly paid youth workers and teachers; farmers who have made the land bloom; researchers who have discovered methods to prevent plant diseases; the children of Holocaust survivors who have made a life for themselves and have built the kibbutz movement. These are the people we met in the Valley of Springs.

We are now on our way to a military base where we will meet the young soldier heroes who protect and maintain the Jewish state; these young men and women are part of our future.

The base at Havat HaShomer was staffed by female army officers who trained at risk men and then turned them into men who could then respect themselves. These female officers who are 19 and 20 years old are real heroes. If we reflect on what they are doing, then we should be proud and confident of the future. Yes folks, this mission was wonderful because we met our heroes and owe much to them!

The last group of heroes are the dedicated Israeli staff who planned the program and delivered on their promise that we would make a difference in the lives of some of the people we touched. Thanks to Federation for making this a unique learning experience!

IMPACT! is a volunteer initiative designed for Baby Boomers looking to use their skills, passion, and leadership to make a difference in people's lives through hands-on volunteering opportunities.

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