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JNF Wire: Building a Future Upon Ancient Stones: Young Leadership in Beit She’an

***JNF WIRE***

 
November 6, 2014
 
Contact:
Adam H. Brill
212-879-9305 x222
 
BUILDING A FUTURE UPON ANCIENT STONES: YOUNG LEADERSHIP IN BEIT SHE'AN
By: Leiba Chaya David

JNF Wire Story Beit Shan Pic4.jpg

JNF's Rick Krosnick addresses the 200 young people in Beit She'an about future opportunities.

On a cool, clear autumn night, the usually quiet courtyard of Beit She’an’s historic Saraya building is bustling with activity. Rock music blares from the loudspeakers; a laughing couple waltzes across the makeshift stage; a small group crowds around a laptop, adjusting a powerpoint presentation. Along with a good local wine, waitresses serve hors d’oeuvres (on eco-friendly bamboo plates) from a nearby restaurant recently opened by a pair of young entrepreneurs.

These are the young adults of Beit She’an - we are here tonight to find out how they are becoming its future.

Beit She’an, population 17,000, is a sleepy town in the northern Jordan Valley. One of Israel’s most ancient cities, Beit She’an boasts impressive archaeological sites that draw thousands of visitors per year. Yet other than a tour of the ruins, there is little to capture visitors’ attention - restaurants, overnight accommodations, and cultural attractions are few and far between. Most tourists stay only a few hours before boarding buses bound for more compelling locations such as Tiberius or Nazareth.

Unfortunately, most of Beit She’an’s young adults are doing the same: growing up with limited educational and recreational resources, returning briefly after military service, then “boarding the buses” for points of greater interest and opportunity. There is not much to occupy them in Beit She’an - no cinema, no dance club, only a few cafés. But far more worrisome than the non-existent cultural scene is the pervasive sense of no “real future” no new housing, no jobs, no higher prospects.

The Beit She’an Young Leadership Center hopes to change that.

The fruit of a partnership between Jewish National Fund, the Beit She’an Municipality, and the Emek Hamayanot Regional Council, the center has been a year in the making. The project is part of JNF’s Go North Campaign, which includes a plan to revitalize Beit She’an and the Emek Hamayanot Region. By generating social, cultural, and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people, the center seeks to attract a dynamic new population while at the same time encouraging the city’s best and brightest to stay put.

Sarai Shalev, a 26 year-old Beit She’an native, describes how she got involved:

“Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF asked us three questions: ‘Do you think change is possible? What is your idea of change? What if you had enough money to do it?’ I had just been telling him about my imminent move to Afula. I was totally cynical, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to stick around. But those three questions, and the possibilities they contained, changed my mind.”

Sarai, together with a core group of 25 young Beit She’an residents, spent the year exploring young leadership programs throughout Israel and brainstorming about Beit She’an’s specific needs. Under the mentorship of higher education coordinator Shosh Ratzabi, and Hema Peswani of Bridge to the Future and Hermine Mahmouzian of JNF-USA's Israel office, the group developed the framework for the Beit She’an Young Leadership Center, which will offer 25-40 year-olds a range of programming, classrooms, labs, community rooms, a cinema, and picnic areas.

As one student organizer described, “the center will cover all the needs of a young person, and will provide a platform for young leaders to make a difference in the big picture of the city. There is really a lot going on here - great people, proximity to nature and historic sites, other attractions and opportunities in the region. The center will help people to see that potential."

Tonight marks not only the launch of the center, but also the first-ever gathering of Beit She’an’s young adults to celebrate the opening of the academic year. Almost half of the city’s 500 students have responded to the invitation to create a dynamic new community in their home town. Newly elected Beit She’an Mayor Rafael Ben Shitrit praised them for their accomplishments and encouraged them to bring their talents back to the city:

“This gathering is heartwarming the first effort of its kind, initiated by students, where you are thinking together about how you can give yourselves to Beit She’an. There is hope for a future here.” 

JNF’s chief development officer, Rick Krosnick, whose ongoing support was applauded by both students and municipal leaders, likewise urged students to resist the temptation to flee the city:

“We can build whatever we want, but bricks and a roof don’t solve the issue. If you are not here in person, you are not part of the solution. The future will be constructed from your strength and creativity.”

The young adult presence can already be felt throughout the city, as young leaders begin to meet with representatives from the fields of education, health, tourism, industry, employment, and housing in order to articulate the needs of the young adult community. As Michal Efraim-Avivi, Beit She’an’s Foreign Relations Director, reflects, “There is a buzz, people are starting to wake up. The mayor knows that his successor will be from the younger generation, and he is listening to them.”

The evening closed with a well-received performance by a stand-up comic, who brought the students together through laughter and pointed social commentary, and with the distribution of a parting gift created by young adults with special needs. These represent the values of social justice and community involvement the Young Leadership Center seeks to encourage, as it begins to transform the city of Beit She’an into a more desirable place to live. 

JNF Wire Story Beit Shan Pic5.jpg

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.

 # # #

JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.

 

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