My Trip to Beit She'an on the border with Jordan in northeastern Israel
No matter how many times you go to Israel, there are amazing new places to visit and people to meet. You can travel to other places in the world, but only in Israel can you feel a sense of pride about what you see.
This was what led my husband Marty and me back for our ninth trip, this time as volunteers on the Jewish Federation of Cleveland Partnership Together (P2K) trip to Beit She'an from February 18 to March 3, 2015. We had seen the spectacular Roman ruins on two previous trips, but we had not spent time in the region. It did not take long for us to realize that the "P" in P2K stands for "people with passion."
Kibbutz Shluchot hosted our group with rooms that served every need except luxury. (That came on our last night at Nir David.) The food was excellent and people were warm, welcoming and passionate about their country and their way of life. Their problems were similar to Cleveland's -- how to get young people to return after their education, how to adapt to a new world economy, how to promote their region as a travel destination.
I volunteered every morning at Tomer School, an elementary school that just moved into a state- of- the- art new building that children clearly enjoy coming to. We tutored the kids in English, some grade levels in preparation for state exams -- sounds familiar! The teachers and staff were passionate about their work and did not miss an opportunity to display the kids' talents and thank Cleveland for what we do. My husband volunteered on nearby Eden Farm, a research farm innovating the growing of vegetables on vertical trellises to make picking easier and using large plastic bags filled with water to provide heat for crops at night after the water has been heated by the sun during the day. The farm also works with special needs children.
Our volunteering also included making and distributing Purim snack packs to soldiers as they passed through the central bus station on their way back to their bases after a weekend at home. We made masks for Purim with kids at the public library which functions as a community center, and spent an evening with Youth Futures, a Cleveland-sponsored program for children at risk. Again we met highly capable Partnership staff who were passionate about their work and grateful for the support they get from Cleveland.
Our afternoons were spent touring and I'll bet native Israelis have not seen half of what there is to see in the region! We spent time at the extensive Roman ruins with Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, post-college young adults from the states who are spending a year teaching English in Beit She'an. On the side, they extentded their passion and knowledge to guide tours at the Roman ruins. We also ñvisited a new Beit She'an city museum, the top of Mt. Gilboa for a spectacular view of the region, a local winery, a fish farm that afforded opportunities for bird watching, the Ethiopian culture center, a Kurdish Village with food and entertainment, a 6th century C.E. synagogue at Beit Alpha and took the Bio Bee tour at Kibbutz S'de Eliyahu, known for organic farming long before it became a buzz word. We even had meetings with the mayors of the city and the region.The group also had shopping time at Eliyahu, in a local strip mall and in a local market.
Our evening entertainment included restaurant dinners, after-hours Hebrew workshops, an art show and a talk by one of the artists living on the kibbutz, a rehearsal of the HaZamir choir which was in Cleveland a few weeks later and part of the combined group that sang at Lincoln Center. The high points for many of us were two in-home, home-cooked gourmet dinners with gracious families in the community. These dinners are treasured not only for their exotic cuisine but for the opportunities to meet wonderful people and gain insight into their lives. A Purim costume party with Cleveland staff completed our visit.
Our first Shabbat weekend was spent on the kibbutz with dinner in their dining hall, services in their beautiful synagogue and havdalah with hospitable kibbutz members in their homes. The second Shabbat weekend we were on our own. Members of our group headed to the major cities and sites of Israel. We had the joy of visiting family in Amirim, a delightful and little-known vegetarian village in the northern Galilee.
Pursuing my passion for leaving some of our money behind to enrich the local economy, I visited numerous Beit She'an artists to buy new items for Treasures Gift Shop, where I volunteer at the Mandel JCC and Siegal facility in Cleveland. Before our departure, I set up a Treasures shuk in our dining room to meet the needs of those who had not been given enough time to shop. Maybe my 10th trip to Israel will be to lead a shopping mission!
The Federation partnership will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. It willingness be a special time for Clevelanders to travel to Beit She'an with the next P2K group. For those of you waiting for the perfect time to go, my advice is just seize the moment and it will be perfect. I have numerous stories on the subject of "where are you safe?" We were safe in Israel in 1993 when the first bombing to the World Trade Center occurred in New York. We were in London en route to Israel when the London bus bombing occurred in 2005. And just two years ago family members in Boston returned home from their first trip to Israel on the day of the Marathon bombing. Would you have hesitated to travel to these cities? We have never felt unsafe in Israel; we have only felt at home and proud.
If you join the next P2K group, you too will share the passion.