Leaving Beit Shean with a Full Heart

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By: Sarah Marek

I’m stronger. I’m independent. I’m lighter. I’m heavier. I’ve said yes. I’ve gained perspective. I’ve learned. I’ve grown.

Listed above are the ways that I have seen myself change as an outcome of my time in Beit Shean. My time here, in the heart of Valley of the Springs, has led to changes within me that I could not imagine. For those of you who do not know, my name is Sarah Marek and I am currently a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow. I moved to Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city, in August 2019 to teach English in elementary schools here. Five months later and I am once again packing my bags – I am now moving to Tel Aviv as part of the split program to teach in a school there.

Transformed with the Fall of the Language Barrier

There has been one challenge after another. First of all, the language barrier. This was huge. When I arrived, I did not even know what the cashiers at the grocery store were asking me when I checked out (they were asking if I needed a bag). But more than this – my students were afraid of my lessons because they did not understand me.

Little by little, my ulpan (conversational Hebrew) classes did their job and I became able to direct my students in Hebrew. I could tell them to read this or write that. Very importantly, I could ask them if they understood what I had just said to them.

Words cannot describe how much breaking down this barrier meant to the students. The student’s ability to feel comfortable around me fundamentally shifted their attitudes toward me. They now ran up to me in the hallways screaming “I love you” or “Hello, how are you?” This changed everything about my time in school.

I felt like I had found my purpose. This work in the schools is so challenging, but when this change occurred, my students became the reason why coming to work every day was easy. They made me feel appreciated and loved in a way that no job has ever made me feel. It is truly hard for me to express this feeling properly in words.

Making Connections in All Moments
I have said yes to nearly every opportunity that has come my way. Not only saying yes to things presented. I tried to really see every moment and encounter as an opportunity. An opportunity to gain new perspectives when I had dinner on a nearby Kibbutz, when I talked to my host family about their religious traditions, when I talked to one of my participants about her mother’s immigration to Israel. All of these moments have given me insight to new perspectives. Many, if not all, of these moments challenged my idea of what life in Israel is like.

I never in a million years thought I would feel connected to people from all over the world in the way I have. But, after living with them for five months, it is clear to see how much we can learn from each other. Curiosity is a beautiful thing and I think starting with curiosity can lead to valuable insights.

Moving Forward
First of all, if you were to have told 21 year-old Sarah that she would be moving to Israel – with 110-degree summers – to teach English, she would have laughed at you. That said, I could not be more grateful for the time I have spent in Beit Shean. Getting a deeper connection to the people of Israel has been invaluable. As they say, it is the people in Beit Shean that keep it so warm. I will happily vouch for this.

To those planning to visit, don’t blink. It will be over before you know it.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. If you have any questions about living in Israel, Beit Shean, or the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Program – please feel free to leave a comment below or contact Rivki Ebner at rebner@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2921.

Apply now to become a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow! Spots are still available for Fall 2021. COMPLETE THE INTEREST FORM >>

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