Written by Burt Garland

Our trip got off to a great – and, of course, jam-packed – start. After a hearty and delicious breakfast (complete with Shakshuka) at the Tal By The Beach in Tel Aviv, we took a short drive to Beit Hatfutshot – The Museum of the Jewish People. There we learned about the history of comedy in Jewish life – both for entertainment and, when times were not so great, as a coping mechanism to deal with oppression, persecution, and discrimination. We also observed synagogue architecture from around the world and over the centuries. We next viewed a video exhibit on Jewish Heroes from throughout the world and over the centuries. We then viewed a video gallery on Ethiopian Aliyah – a project that matched Ethiopian Israelis with their photos taken nearly 30 years ago when they made Aliyah. Each vignette focused on the story of an Ethiopian Jew and their plight from when the first made Aliyah to today and whether they have fulfilled their potential as Israelis and whether Israel has fulfilled its potential to them as Ethiopian Jews. To me, the most interesting statement during this visit was that we, as Jewish people, should remember we are not just people of the Book, but we are THE people of the Book – the Book is our story as Jews.

From Beit Hatfutshot, we drove to our Partnership region in Megido. There, we enjoyed a traditional Israeli lunch complete with plenty of fresh salads, vegetables, and sauces. We then met with members of the Megido Regional Council, including the Mayor of Megido, who explained the importance of the St. Louis/Megido partnership and expressed their sincere gratitude for our generosity. Next, we attended a Fair which consisted of round-robin, small-group discussion with six educational programs in Megido – all of which, in some form or another, target at-risk children and their families and offer them various forms of encouragement, support, and programming to enable these children to complete their high school educations:

  1. Moshavim – provides youth counselors and after school activities for teenagers at the 3 Moshavim whose parents fail to provide proper guidance or who are absent, with a focus on providing safe environment for at risk teens as well as sports activities.
  2. Otzma Center – targets two distinct groups of children – ages 6-12 and 12-18 – and provides extracurricular after-school activities, parent-child groups, and groups for dealing with social issues for families at risk due to trauma, loss of parent, illness, divorce, mental illness of parents.
  3. Ma’Leh – Provides an alternative learning space for high school students at risk of dropping out, including special teachers and school staff.
  4. Bait Cham – Warm Home for Girls – The home serves as a warm, inviting, and enhancing place as well as addresses their academic, social, emotional, and family needs on an individual and group basis.
  5. Special Needs – Provides activities for strengthening relationships within families who have special needs children. This includes providing support, counseling, and guidance to parents, grandparents, and siblings of special needs children.
  6. Co-Existence – Fosters interaction and attempts to breakdown the stereotypes between Jewish and Arab students and school staff.

Next, we took a short drive to Machshava Tova where we learned there are an estimated 1.3 million digitally illiterate Israeli citizens – 200k Haredim, 400k Arab, and 700k in the general population. This program in Megido offers 12 courses which have engaged a total of 131 participants – 97 children, 25 young adults, and 9 senior citizens. We heard from participants in a program funded by Jewish Federation of Atlanta – they presented their design ideas for various apps and discussed the development process and their ideas to source funding for their apps. We then learned about APP2U – a pilot program funded by St. Louis designed to engage teenage girls in computer programming and other STEM activities.

We then traveled to Kibbutz Dalia where we got to rest for one hour (yes – one whole hour) before we had a great dinner with members of the Megido Regional Counsel (including the Mayor), other guests, and our friends from Atlanta. After dinner we heard several speeches which again recognized the sincere appreciation for our support in the region. We also learned about plans for the Region to attempt to increase its profile as an eco-tourism destination. Many of us concluded our first day with an outdoor night-cap in the cool (low 50s) air at Kibbutz Dalia. Now it is off to get some rest before another jam-packed second day of learning and exploration.