Clevelanders Volunteer in Beit Shean

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Fifteen Jewish Clevelanders are beginning an unforgettable two-week volunteer experience in Cleveland’s sister city, Beit Shean.

Monday, February 15

Volunteers spent their first day helping Israeli students improve their English skills.

Tuesday, February 16

by Donna Lipson

From 6° in Cleveland on Sunday to 61° tonight at Kibbutz Schluchot!

We spent the morning at Eden Farm, one of four research and development farms in Israel. We took a tour of the magnificent greenhouse, with all shapes and colors of tomatoes, eggplants that look like tomatoes (are they still called eggplants if they are round like a tomato?), and most memorably, tiny hybrid cucumbers that tasted like both a cucumber and a watermelon!

Beit Shean is a leader in agricultural innovation. At the forefront of these efforts is Zion Daco, General Manager at Eden Research Farm (pictured far right),

We had a fascinating session about red palm weevil, which is a pest that kills majestic date palms. These beautiful trees produce the luscious Medjool dates. And even though we had packed our lunches, staff insisted on serving us a delicious hot lunch: choice of three entrees (I had fish with basil)!

Later we met Duby, Dorit, and Chen at the Partnership2Gether building. They talked movingly about three of the Cleveland programs, and the difference they have made here: Bridge to the Future, Partnership2Gether, and Youth Futures. The appreciation felt by staff was palpable.

We later enjoyed a tour of the kibbutz, and marveled at their beautiful shul with exterior artwork by an artist from the kibbutz, and an exquisite mosaic on their community building.

After a delicious and relaxing dinner at Cafe Greg, where we ordered off the huge menu, we are back at the kibbutz, looking forward to tomorrow. Everyone has been very welcoming, and our group is becoming a little community.

Wednesday, February 17

by Cheryl Wikas

As I write this I am sitting outside of the guest house at a picnic table. It is eight in the evening, and I would guess the temperature is about 70 degrees. Today was a very long day filled with many different activities. Our band of Potters and Planters, as we on the agriculture track have decided to name ourselves, began our morning at Eden Farm, adjacent to the kibbutz, by learning about the fish that are grown under either the Farm's supervision or with its guidance. The two primary types of fish raised are tilapia and carp. While watching the fish pools, we also learned about the multitudes of birds flying around, notably cormorants and Pelicans, both of which love to eat fish. Since Pelicans are a protected species, farm staff is permitted only to shoot toward them to disperse them, but not actually to shoot them outright. Eden Farm spends a lot of shekels on ammunition each year.

We then went to another part of the farm where the day camp is located. Each week, groups of school age children come to Eden Farm to learn about agriculture and try their hands at "working" the land. Our next jobs were planting lettuce seeds into small starter pots and then transplanting various herbs from starter pots into larger receptacles. It was both fun and, collectively, what we viewed as productive. After lunch, the two education groups from our overall group came to the farm to join us in a tour of one of the greenhouses, taste a sample of its delicious produce and also to learn about the red palm weevil that is responsible for endangering and killing many date palm trees, that produce a significant agricultural crop.

Our day was far from over. Our next stop was the shuk, or outdoor market. Here, many varieties of items are sold including produce, new and used clothes, kitchen goods and very valuable commodities such as cans of Coca Cola products. We also had an opportunity to stop at a nearby pharmacy to pick up items left at home like sunscreen and gum.

Volunteers Sheila Kleinman and Alice Wyman at Eden Farm.

Dan Dermer and Linda Stiller learn about agriculture and "working" the land.

Since we had not eaten in the last five minutes, our marathon day continued with more food. The group was divided in two. My half visited the home of Etty and Yehuda Valinaamaat. Etty guided us in the preparation of hamantaschen, mini chocolate babka, mini apple pie and the making of sugar cream rosettes to put atop cupcakes. She also made us a dinner that included several salads and veggies, couscous and at least eight different entrees – chicken, meat, or vegetarian. Of course, she had baked her own desserts for us, as well. Each part of dinner was delicious and reflected the Sephardi heritage of our hosts.

Our last activity of the evening is now completed. After my sojourn in the courtyard, our entire group was treated to a presentation on art from kibbutz resident Ken Goldman, who made Aliyah 30 years ago. Recognizing the exhaustion of the crowd, he offered an abbreviated slide show presentation with witty commentary about his visual, three dimensional, and performance art and its Judaic and metaphorical underpinnings. His artwork is shown all over the world. Not coincidentally for our group, he shared that he had spent much of his first fifteen years on the kibbutz as a key participant in the fish projects.

I will conclude by noting that this volunteer program is not for those who just want to hang around. Time to sleep – quickly.

Thursday, February 18

The Sweetness of Beit Shean

by Cathy Randall

Cathy Randall teaches English to Israeli students at Dekalim, a school in our sister city of Beit Shean.

Our group volunteers at three schools in Beit Shean. Dekalim, the school where I was placed, has the most delightful students.

Their eagerness to succeed and learn English, along with the Hebrew and Arabic required, makes their academic day more than full. The simple mechanics of learning English has been amazingly mastered by so many. The struggle to have conversations with English speakers could be a stumbling block, but not for these students. They read with such fluency and ease.

The Federation’s program to bring English to Beit Shean has succeeded in "crumbling" these very stumbling blocks. Students were eager (albeit hesitant and fearful of not knowing a particular word) to talk, talk, talk with us.

Teacher Gemya Taylor working with her 5th grade English students.

Questions like “Do you like Justin Bieber,” “Do you know Fran Gordon,” “Do you like Beit Shean,” and “Would you live in Israel” came easily to both the boys and girls. Then there was the poignant moment when a student cried because she missed talking to us. Her grandfather was a famous Israeli soldier by the name of Meir Har-Zion. Even though the words did not come easily for her, she delighted in telling us about her grandfather.

The end to a perfect day was during a home-cooked meal by the wonderful family of Orna and Ariel Avraham, their six children, and mother-in-law. The meal of Iraqi and Iranian cuisine was delicious! Course upon course kept coming out, and the conversation flowed with bits of English and Hebrew. The warmth and connection between our fellows of Cleveland and Beit Shean made the day memorable and sweet.

Friday, February 19

by Audrey Lowe

What a way to spend my birthday!

After breakfast we took a short bus trip to Beit Shean National Park where we met up with three Masa Israel Teaching Fellows. They are three American young adults who are spending time in Israel teaching English in elementary schools. One of the young men was a history major in college and he guided us on a tour around the ruins of Byzantine Beit Shean.

To walk around and stand where ancient Jews, Romans, and Greeks walked is hard to describe. Just thinking that this was where those people carried on all of their activities so long ago is amazing to me. We also enjoyed hearing personal stories that Efi Mazor, our project coordinator, was told by his father about growing up before the excavation of the city. Just imagine that Mr. Mazor played soccer on the land that was over the excavation site!

The ruins at Beit Shean National Archeological Park.

Reenacting the story of King Saul on Mt. Gilboa.

Our next stop was at Mt. Gilboa. What a beautiful view of the entire area! Everyone was busy taking in the view and many of us took multiple pictures of it. We then were treated to a reenactment of the story of King Saul and his suicide on the very spot where we were standing. I must say that I made a great King Saul, Alice was great as the woman who could read the stars, and Wendy was a great courier!

After a delicious falafel lunch, we went to Weitzman Winery for a wine tasting, a welcome Shabbat sing-a-long, and a lesson in wine making. Then it was back to Shluchot Guest House to relax and prepare for Shabbat services and dinner. I can't remember having a more meaningful birthday. I only wish that my entire family could be here in Beit Shean to celebrate with me! My friends from Cleveland and friends in Israel made it a special day. They even brought Cathy Randall and me balloons and a birthday cake!

Alice Wyman and Audrey Lowe as King Saul on top of Mt. Gilboa.

Efi Mazor, Program Director, pours wine with the owner of the Weitzman Winery.

Sunday, February 21

by Beryl Palnik

Before reviewing our busy day of Sunday, February 21, I'd like to share a special visit that took place after Shabbat ended. We visited Ohel Yosef Synagogue in Beit Shean.

Here we viewed an entire collection of beautiful religious artifacts that was rescued from Bethaynu Synagogue in Cleveland. This rescue was arranged by Erica Epstein and her Israeli friend from Ambassadors for Unity in 2011. Erica, her Israeli friend, and Sherrie Epstein (her proud mother who is on our trip) were all present for a special presentation from Ohel Yosef! We also marveled at their many gorgeous Sephardic Torahs encased in adorned metal.

On Sunday, three of us went to Gilboa School for our fourth day of interacting with the students. The students at this secular school are such a joy, and very eager to participate in the lessons planned for them! They laughed playing Twister-Israeli Style, perfected colors, numbers, book reports, spelling bee practice all in English and with so much enthusiasm!

Recess was great fun as we danced together to American and Israeli pop songs, and talked about the Cavs with the boys! Lael Oren, the English teacher was very friendly and helpful!

Beryl helps students with their numbers.

Playing Twister with the students from Gilboa School.

After lunch, we toured the Old Gesher Experience. The name was derived from the historical Jordanian bridge. Jews settled here in 1921 and were 20 feet away from the Jordan border. In the War of Independence in 1948, it was heavily attacked and demolished by the Jordanian army, but was later rebuilt on higher terrain. Some parts of the original buildings still exist.

Visiting Chava, an Ethiopian immigrant, in her home. A wonderful experience!

Also on this interesting tour was a multimedia presentation about the creation of the Nahariyyim Power Plant. This was an expansive and experimental power plant designed by Pinchas Rosenberg, a Russian Jewish engineer. In May of 1948, the power plant fell to the Jordanian army.

Our delightful and delicious evening meal was at the Germachin Ethiopian Center. We were hosted by Chava, an Ethiopian Jew who fled with her family from a large village in 1984. We were fascinated with her exciting story of her journey from Ethiopia to Sudan to Jerusalem to Beit Shean. We sat in her Sukkah, learned about her native customs, and enjoyed traditional delicacies for dinner! We ended our wonderful evening with a dance while wearing our colorful Ethiopian shawls!

Monday, February 22

by Linda Stiller

Today was our last day at Eden Farm. We spent it planting four different varieties of basil in the greenhouse, and spread some mulch around by the school area. The morning culminated with a short appreciation ceremony.

Our planned tour of the beautiful springs for which the area was named, was cancelled due to rain. Instead, we visited an ancient synagogue at the Bet Alpha kibbutz and did some shopping in their gift shop.

Members of the Community Builders, meet us for a delightful evening and a delicious dinner in town. Some of us went on to a concert featuring Fran Gordon.

All in all it was a very gratifying day.

Tuesday, February 23

by Wendy and Dan Dermer

We started today with a welcome from Valley of the Springs regional mayor, Mr. Yoram Karin and Beit Shean mayor Mr. Rafael Ben-Sheetrit. Both were very grateful for the partnership between Cleveland and Beit Shean over the past 20 years. They look forward to a continued relationship over the next 100 years.

After that "The Amazing Race – Getting to know the Valley and the City" began:

First we visited Seraya. The original government buildings there are being redeveloped with the idea of increasing tourism. Many of these buildings were built by the Turks, but the complex also included ruins of a Crusader fortress and a Roman amphitheater. The Federation donated the building, "Information Center for Tourism" on the 10th anniversary of the Cleveland-Beit Shean partnership. We were asked for our ideas to increase tourism which included a casino, building hotels, and linking up with the cellar art held in the Cleveland Museum of Art and /or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Doorway at Old City Seraya

Doorway at Old City Seraya

Second on the list was Eden Farm, where the highlight was holding red palm weevils and their larvae. Not an experience to be missed, except by those who do not like bugs. Eden farm is one of four regional agricultural research centers in Israel. Their work on the weevil, which kills date palm trees, is being used to build relationships between Israel and Jordan.

Red Palm Weevil at Eden Farm

Red Palm Weevils at Eden Farm

Michael, Holding Beetle Larvae

Michael, Holding Beetle Larvae

The third stop was the Seiden Center, where singing, dancing, and playing instruments provides an opportunity for children in 3rd and 4th grades to learn music. We had a violin lesson, and except for Alan, our violin playing was not symphony quality.

The fourth stop was the Idan Technology Center, which was designed to encourage creative learning for elementary students. Children visit the center to learn about robotics, 3D printing, and more.

Next was the library, which also serves as a community center. The library works with schools and youth groups, with activities ranging from dance to art. It is more of a community center than a library. Located next to the library was a playground /park that had been built by the community.

The sixth stop was the Tachkemoni Elementary School, part of a Federation-funded program for bringing assistant teachers into the schools to teach English. We got to meet Jessica, who is currently an assistant teacher.

Professor Art Naperstek Memorial

Professor Art Naperstek Memorial

The final stop was a service held at the Professor Art Naperstak Memorial. The beautiful, but brief service paid tribute to his contribution in establishing a relationship between Beit Shean and Cleveland.

All groups were winners in this race, but the blue group came in first.

Then off to a falafel lunch, followed by a visit to the Youth Futures Program. All of us participated in interactive exercises to teach children concepts such as; "working together is success," "patience and perseverance is a virtue,” and “don't stand on a magic carpet if you want them to fly."

We ended the day enjoying Kurdish dancing and food.

Ending the Day with Kurdish Dancing

Ending the Day with Kurdish Dancing

Wednesday, February 24

by Mike Milgrom

Today was exhausting but totally exhilarating. We spent the morning touring around the area with the Clevelanders who are here for the 20th anniversary celebration, visiting places where the Cleveland/Beit Shean/Valley of the Springs partnership has had an impact. For the first time on the trip I actually took notes so I could keep track!

I can't do justice to all of the places we visited so I'll just do highlights. We started with the Museum of Beit Shean and the story of how it came to be, through the efforts of several dedicated residents.

Next we visited the monument to those killed in the terrorist attack of 2002 and heard from Zehava Levi whose husband was severely wounded in the attack. She decided after the attack to start Ezrat Nashim, a mutual support group for bereaved women which has been a great help to a large number of women.

Monument to Victims of the Terror Attack in Beit Shean

Monument to Victims of the Terror Attack in Beit Shean

Mike Planting His Tree in Basalt Canyon

Mike Planting His Tree in Basalt Canyon

We visited the Basalt Canyon where the scenery is very beautiful and there is a hiking trail that (in total) goes for more than 85 miles around the whole area. We met students from Mechinat Ha'Emek, a program that helps high school grads get ready for their army service through work, learning, and living with peers. The Mechina students directed and assisted us in planting trees along the trail. For many of us, the tree planting was a real highlight of the program. It was a highlight for me, too. I have planted trees in Israel before but this is the first time I ever planted and expected the tree to survive. I know exactly where it is and hope to visit it before it gets too much bigger. The beautiful weather and scenery made the occasion even more special.

We visited a senior center supported by the partnership and heard from students at the ORT school which is twinned with the Gross Schechter Day School. Then, on to the new train station which is quite impressive and will be operational by fall of this year.

Cleveland - Beit Shean Partnership Square

Cleveland - Beit Shean Partnership Square

Last highlight of the morning (early afternoon, anyway) was a visit to Partnership Square, a roundabout at the northern entrance to the city with an arch proclaiming the Cleveland/Beit Shean/Valley of the Springs partnership. Federation leaders, partnership staff and the mayors of Beit Shean and Valley of the Springs unveiled a new plaque dedicating the roundabout.

The celebration this evening of 20 years of the partnership was inspiring and entertaining. Young singers, musicians, actors and dancers gave highly accomplished demonstrations of their skills. All are supported in some way by the partnership. The actors even involved the Cleveland Playmakers in their skit. A procession of Ethiopian women gave a narrated re-enactment of their walk to freedom through Ethiopia and Sudan.

Beit Shean Partnership Celebration

Beit Shean Partnership Celebration

The speakers all had wonderful things to say about the partnership and the Cleveland Jewish Community and it was clear that they meant every word. It was a great evening and made me feel proud to be part of this community and very fortunate to be present.

It is now after 11:00 and I still have to pack since we are leaving tomorrow. Too soon but it has been fantastic!

Thursday, February 25

by Sheila Kleinman

This morning started out as usual with wonderful breakfast but at the same time, it will be the last breakfast together with everyone on the trip from Cleveland.

Some of us will be heading back to the U.S. and others will be staying on for visits with friends and family elsewhere.

After packing and going on the bus for a short ride to an army base, we were introduced to a unique experience. Young men who qualify for a program to better their lives are given the opportunity to do so due to a rigorous program of education and training for future success. It was a very moving experience for me.

As a newcomer to Cleveland, I am extremely proud to be a part of the program run through the Federation. The enormous amount of help and support given to the people of Beit Shean over the last 20 years is amazing.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful program of people to people.

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