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We Will Be Friends - Cleveland Federation's YouthAbility Mission to Beit Shean

It's not every Federation mission that ends lunch with an outdoors disco in a school courtyard, followed by a basketball game. On Thursday, March 29, the Horvitz YouthAbility mission from Cleveland visited the Beit Shean Golani School for children with special needs. Run by the Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, the Horvitz YouthAbility program is supported by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The 29-strong Cleveland group included youth at risk and young people with special needs, accompanied by their family and organizers. For most, it was their first time in Israel.  

During the day, the group performed a play, rehearsed already from summer 2011, and participated in arts and crafts sessions with students from the Golani School. The school caters for students aged 6 to 21, with 5-10 people per class.

The performance, "We Will Be Friends," showed the young adults wearing different colored sashes, interacting only with those of the same color but then coming together to understand that, "Even though we are all different colors, we can all learn that we are the same on the inside." The performers' message was clear, that "We are all one, friends of every color." "I can't believe they've achieved so much in such a short time," said Ayelet Fogel, principal of the Golani School, watching the final performance.

Cleveland mission participants perform 'We Will Be Friends'

The enthusiastic troupe was directed by the dynamic coordinator, Heidi Solomon. In her Hebrew introduction, Heidi described that in the celebration of differences inherent in every individual; we perform a "tikkun olam," fixing the world's imperfections.

The YouthAbility mission members were all prepped four months in advance, speaking with the Beit Shean team via video conferencing to go over the details of the itinerary. One participant, Beverly, related; "We saw the school on video. It's so exciting now that we're here." The framework of the trip was designed to create maximum comfort for the participants visiting their sister city. Even the lunch was prepared in special consultation with a chef, to cater for the Clevelanders' particular needs.

After the performance, each participant was introduced to the 70 Golani students and was met by applause from all. Handing out chocolate handmade at a factory visited earlier in the week, the participants established an immediate connection with the audience.

The arts and crafts sessions brought together the Cleveland contingent with pupils from the school, grouped according to age, interest and ability. "This school is largely their home," said teacher Yochi, describing the role of the school in the pupils' lives. 

Fogel, the school principal, spoke of the bonds being created: "As the connections flourish, we become their family here. We're creating yet another link with Jews in North America. It's not just about whether it's 'worth it'; it's crucial."

Added Lior Balavie, the Jewish Agency representative in Beit Shean; "The town has a real connection to their friends across the ocean." Balavie also emphasized the warm feeling with which the school is held throughout the city; "Ask any Beit Shean resident about us; everyone knows where the school is and are extremely proud of it."

Balavie joins in the celebration

"This is about community building," said Ezra, spokesperson from the Cleveland Beit Shean alliance. "The enthusiasm generated by those who work at this school proves how special this link is."

Tzaneret, head of the region's state schools, affirmed, "I believe in what we're doing here, it's a matter of working towards something you believe in."

Oshrat Barel, Partnership Director of the Jewish Agency Beit Shean Cleveland alliance, spoke of the mission as a "platform for connection and a chance for identifying with Israel. Missions like this enable bonds to be built between the two locations that are not just focused on the shared Jewish connection but on a score of other areas."

The Federation connection with Beit Shean has had a positive effect not only on Cleveland citizens but also on Israelis. The city’s location in the north means that its residents can often feel neglected and forgotten by the rest of the country. Being linked to Cleveland Federation has meant a widening of perspective. Whether it is Beit Shean school classes being linked with Cleveland classes, or Federation missions like the YouthAbility one, "It gives children the chance to see a world outside their own city and to dream of more opportunities" confirmed Oshrat.

One Beit Shean contingent, after visiting Cleveland and having strengthened their own sense of identity through interactions there said, "We travelled as Israelis and returned as Jews."

Cleveland mission participants and Golani School pupils dance in the courtyard
Oshrat stressed, "P2G is aiding Jewish continuity, facilitating bringing people back to the idea of honoring Israel. These people can be proud Jews but sometimes it takes meeting others to help you feel it."

The closing remarks ending the joint event were met with rounds of applause and a powerfully upbeat vibe, demonstrating the strength of good will between the two groups. "I had so much fun," exclaimed participants joyfully. "It's been really exciting to witness the synergy," declared Heidi. Oshrat was delighted with the union of the two groups; "I didn't know what to expect but I'm really impressed. This has touched me."




Tikva Schein