Beer Sheva, past, present, and this summer!

UPDATE – A fun time was had by all. And we have photos to prove it!

Check them out! click on the link. Thanks to Matt Polani!

You are invited on Thursday, July 18th to experience Beer Sheva for yourself…

On Thursday, July 18 the Southern Region of AACI is hosting a gala Summer Picnic. We invite everyone across the country, new olim and vatikim, Israelis and non-Israelis, families and singles, to come and experience Beer Sheva, to glory in our past, to enjoy our modern beautiful present, and, in addition, to meet our wonderful community.

Our picnic will take place from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the large public park in the Heh neighborhood and will feature clowns, balloons, crafts for the kids, jumping castles, cotton candy, great music, and other surprises!. In addition, we are planning a small crafts fair of Negev art.

When you plan your summer vacation, plan on spending Thursday, July 18 in Beer Sheva. We look forward to having you!

For more information, contact me at reesagstone@gmail.com.

Years ago, when my husband and I were dating and things became serious, he told me that if we were to get married, we’d have to move from Jerusalem – where we were then living – to either Haifa in the north, or Beer Sheva in the south. He wouldn’t be able to make a good enough living to support a family as an engineer in the center of the country, but both north and south had excellent potential. This was back in the dark ages, when Google wasn’t even a glint in Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s eyes (and quite possibly Messrs Page and Brin might have been only slightly more than a glint in their fathers’ eyes), so I could only make an informative decision by asking around.

Not exactly scientific.

Nonetheless, somehow and for reasons that totally escape me today, we decided on Beer Sheva. My to-be husband sent out a bunch of resumes, got a few job offers, and three weeks after we were married, we moved to a dusty, quiet, and very hot town. I spent much of that moving day hiding my tears from my new husband. He never suspected that I had hoped and hoped that something would happen and we wouldn’t have to move to this hole in the middle of the desert.

Beer Sheva 1917

Beer Sheva 1917

I knew absolutely nobody in the city. I had visited only once before, years before, on a trip to the Negev. (I vaguely remembered walking back to the hostel and being accosted by Beer Sheva’s best, what was then called pushtakim or punks.) The weather was dreadful. The streets were covered in donkey poop. Dust covered everything. Truly, I didn’t want to be there.

30 hours after we first arrived in Beer Sheva, Shabbat also arrived. We went to shul, and almost immediately, everything began to change. I met warm, welcoming, and gracious people who invited us over for Shabbat meals, and offered to take us around and show us the town.

So, when my husband started working, and before I found work (three weeks later) I was not quite as traumatized as I had been and I took the opportunity to walk around town. At that time, Beer Sheva was still small enough that you could walk just about anywhere. It was then that the magic of Beer Sheva began to percolate into my bones.

In the 28 years that have passed since that fateful decision and my first tearful days in Beer Sheva, much has changed here. The city has grown from a large town of 60,000 to a big city of 205,000. The University has grown from less than 5000 students to over 18,000. And, unlike in 1985, there are now more shopping malls than sheep in the city. As a matter of fact, months can go by before I see a sheep or donkey. (In 1985, the Bedouin lady who rode her donkey down my street nodded to me daily.)

Yet, the magic has never worn off. Indeed, the city, to me, has become ever more entrancing. Here are some facts that few are aware of:

1. Beer Sheva is not just one of the oldest cities in the world, it is also the first Jewish city in history. 4000 years before Tel Aviv was built, Avraham Avinu planted the first Tamarisk Tree (Eitz Eshel) here, thereby establishing a Jewish city in the south part of the Land of Israel. All three of our forefathers lived here, giving the city the nickname Ir HaAvot – city of the Fathers. Today, at the edge of the old city, is ‘Be’er Avraham’, which claims to house the original well that was dug by Abraham. Of course, it isn’t the well, just a well; one of hundreds that were dug in the area over the millennia. A few years ago, Be’er Avraham was closed to the public and refurbished. It opens this summer as a museum of the history of Beer Sheva since the time of Abraham.

Beer Avraham

Beer Avraham

A Tamarisk tree is on the municipal flag and the trees can still be found around town.

Beer Sheva flag

Beer Sheva flag

Tamarisk tree

Tamarisk tree

2. Beer Sheva has some of the most comprehensive Byzantine ruins in the world. The Byzantines settled in the area to ward off attacks by the Nabateans, who controlled the spice route from Gaza to Arabia. Recently, an entire town was unveiled during the construction of the new bus station, and the ruins can be seen under the floor of the new station. I would venture to say that Beer Sheva is the only city in the world with a Byzantine city under its bus station on view through a glass floor.

Governor's house

Governor’s house

Beer Sheva boasts the largest number of Ottoman-era buildings in Israel. From the Governors House, to an early 20th century Mosque, to a school for the children of Bedouin Sheiks, to the train station (complete with an early 19th century train that traveled from Constantinople to Cairo – better known as the Orient Express), and other assorted residences and structures, these unique buildings have recently been restored and reopened to the public—each for a different purpose. The school is now a science museum, the Governor’s House is an art museum. The Mosque houses the history of Beer Sheva from Ottoman times to the present. Other buildings have become restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

Turkish Railway Station

Turkish Railway Station for the Orient Express

After the Ottomans, came the British Mandate, and dozens of Mandate-era buildings dot the city. The most magical (to me) of the remnants of the Mandate, however, is the British War Cemetery. Set off of what is today a busy thoroughfare, the cemetery is an oasis of quiet and, ironically, one of the most peaceful and green areas in the city. Buried here are the soldiers of the Commonwealth (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) who died in the Battle for Beer Sheva, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beersheba_(1917) led by General Edmund Allenby. Just down the street from the cemetery, is a small park dedicated to Allenby’s memory. It was the first park built in the city, just after the war.

Allenby Park

Allenby Park

British War Cemetery

British War Cemetery

Moving along in historical architecture is the “Brutalism” style adopted in the new city shortly after the War of Independence. Searching for a way to quickly house the refugees from Northern Africa after independence, Israeli architectures settled on Brutalism, which is not nearly as harsh as the name. Like Tel Aviv is known for its Bauhaus buildings, Beer Sheva is now known for its Brutalism. http://www.haaretz.com/culture/be-er-sheva-the-capital-of-brutalism.premium-1.501982
But if Brutalism doesn’t do it for you (it doesn’t for me to tell the truth), the glorious fountains that our mayor has scattered all around the city more than make up for it.

3. If history, archeology, and architecture aren’t your thing, there’s always shopping. The Grand Kanyon (pun hopefully intended) Shopping Mall opened its doors last month. The largest and greenest mall in the country, it has three floors for shopping and one for eating. It takes half a day just to walk around it. This mall is, of course, in addition to the other dozen or so shopping malls in the city, some of them, really, really nice. There isn’t anything you can’t buy here.
4000 years worth of history, unique architecture, museums and art galleries, fountains, and shopping are all found here in the Capital of the Negev. And I haven’t even mentioned Beer Sheva’s famous ice cream!

Beer Sheva's famous ice cream

Beer Sheva’s famous ice cream

On Thursday, July 18 the Southern Region of AACI is hosting a gala Summer Picnic. We invite everyone across the country, new olim and vatikim, Israelis and non-Israelis, families and singles, to come and experience Beer Sheva, to glory in our past, to enjoy our modern beautiful present, and, in addition, to meet our wonderful community.

Our picnic will take place from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the large public park in the Heh neighborhood and will feature clowns, balloons, crafts for the kids, jumping castles, cotton candy, great music, and other surprises!. In addition, we are planning a small crafts fair of Negev art.

When you plan your summer vacation, plan on spending Thursday, July 18 in Beer Sheva. We look forward to having you!

For more information, contact me at reesagstone@gmail.com.

We welcome you to be in touch with our Southern Branch office in Beer Sheva:

Miriam Green, Southern Branch Counselor AACI–Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel Matnas Yud-Aleph, 11 Mordechai Namir St., Beer Sheva tel: 08-643-3953 mgreen@aaci.org.il

Subscribe to the AACI Beer Sheva newsletter

For more information about the Southern Branch in Beer Sheva click here.

“We Make A Difference” JOIN THE FAMILY! Hours: Sunday, Monday, Thursday 9-1!

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Off the Beaten Track

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Dena Frenkel, an olah chadasha living in Beer Sheva. A version of this post originally appeared in a recent edition of The English Update. As always, the content of this blog represents the opinion of the author and does not represent AACI opinion or policy.

My husband and I made aliyah at the end of November 2012. Unlike most olim from the United States who head for Jerusalem, Ramat Beit Shemesh or Efrat, we moved to the south, to Beer Sheva. I am sure you are thinking the same question everyone asks us (including people who live in Beer Sheva): “Why Beer Sheva?”

For me, there were several compelling reasons to come here. The first and probably strongest reason was Avraham Avinu (Abraham, our father). He is my personal hero, and he made his home primarily here, setting the tone of the place by his presence. Even today, the general atmosphere here in Beer Sheva is one of helpfulness and hospitality. The whole town exemplifies the spirit of its founder, Avraham Avinu.

Second, although it’s located in a desert, Beer Sheva has natural underground water – hence its name which translates as “Seven Wells.” It’s not a total desert here, more like the edge of the desert. There really is a lot of vegetation throughout the town. In fact, the mayor of Beer Sheva, who everyone seems to adore, only gets one criticism and that is he has planted so much and put in so many water fountains to beautify the place that there has been a creeping up of humidity over the last few years. (More about the weather below).

My husband’s children and most of our grandchildren live in Israel and we had been planning to make aliyah for several years. Our children live in the center of Israel which is where my husband would have preferred us to go, but I wouldn’t want to live in the center of the country. I find it crowded with too many people and too many cars and crazy drivers, and it feels to me so polarized between different groups. I feel happier and more spiritually connected when I am in the north or in the south.

We actually spent quite a bit of time in the north looking at possibilities but never found a community we thought we could live in. Also, the weather was not good for me – in the summer, yes, but the winter is damp and rainy and I am very sensitive to being cold. And, since I had always had a fantasy about Beer Sheva, we decided to have a look.

My Decision Process

We came over a period of two years, meeting people, looking at housing, and getting a feel for the place before we made aliyah last year. Beer Sheva had much of what we needed to begin our life in Israel– a group of observant English speakers who live in the same neighborhood, a great medical system, good climate, and the lifestyle was that of a small city, lower key and more laid back.

I lived for 12 years in Oregon before moving to the Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore. Baltimore is a small town/city itself and the frum (religiously observant) section is a very livable piece of that. So I wanted to move somewhere similar with less population, more physical space, and not crammed full of only apartments.

Another consideration for me is that my daughter and grandson are joining us from the States, G-d willing, this summer. She has serious chronic pain issues so Beersheva with its excellent medical care and its dry moderate climate was a good fit.

Getting Around

For those of you who have not been to Beer Sheva recently or never have been, it is a great town to live in logistically. It is relatively small so most places are conveniently close by foot or by bus. (We don’t yet have a car). The city is almost all flat which makes walking very easy and comfortable.

The efficient bus system makes it possible to get practically anywhere you need to go. And we have the train down here so you can get to Ben Gurion airport or Tel Aviv in just one hour without even changing trains. The train is really wonderful and now goes from Beer Sheva all the way up to Nahariya. However, if you want to go to Jerusalem, the bus is probably your best bet with buses leaving every half hour and taking one hour and forty-five minutes. The train has a long stopover in Lod so the trip takes close to two and a half hours.

In fact, the public transportation system everywhere in the country is one of the perks of living in Israel. I am a pensioneret (female retiree), and it’s half price for me. That means a city bus ride costs me two shekels and going to the Merkaz, including the airport by bus or train, is 15 shekels. Is there a better bargain than that anywhere?

Beer Sheva is the capital of the Negev and a hub of public services, including Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of the Interior), Misrad HaKlita (Ministry of Absorption), the area’s government agencies, and also ulpan (Hebrew language instruction) services. I did not realize that at first, and thought it was odd that we were in the line at the municipality and kept getting asked if we lived in Beer Sheva. I thought to myself: Why would I be standing in line if I didn’t live here? But then I realized people have to come here from Netivot and Arad and all around the south. I can walk/bus there so I realized just how lucky and convenient services were for us.

Medical Services

A big factor in our coming to Beer Sheva was the medical system. In my opinion, affordable national health coverage is a big plus to living anywhere in Israel compared to the U.S. Consider the following cost comparision. Health insurance for both of us here with the best supplemental policies will cost us about NIS 550 per month, plus some co-pays. That is $150-$200 per month, depending on the exchange rate. In the States my husband’s job offered him retiree health benefits for both of us that would cost $1000 per month with $2500 deductible, plus it only covered 80% of the cost. That means we would have to pay $14,500 a year before they paid anything.

Beer Sheva has excellent doctors and facilities with Ben Gurion University Medical School and Soroka Hospital and an alternative medicine college as well. My husband belongs to Clalit (one of the 4 medical insurance services available to Israelis) which is affiliated with the medical school and Soroka. I joined Maccabi (another one of the 4 medical insurance services) because an English-speaking doctor who was highly recommended to me was a part of that system. So far, we are both very happy with the service we are getting and the quality of doctors we have seen. One drawback is that the forms or signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, or Russian, but not English. That is a problem I might not have living in a strong English-speaking community in the center of the country.

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos; Maccabi, Leumit, Clalit, Meuchedet

Most religiously observant English speakers in Beer Sheva live either in Shchuna (neighborhood) Hey or Tet which are very close to each other separated by a small highway. We live in Tet for now, but just bought a place in Hey. Both Hey and Tet are centrally located so that the municipality, Old City, and the shuk for shopping are all about 15 minutes by bus or 30 minutes by foot.

Settling In

I don’t want to sugarcoat the process of making a major move like this because it is very hard to do – anywhere in Israel. It is probably harder in a place like Beer Sheva which is actually in Israel and not in an English enclave that happens to be in Israel. Luckily for me, it turns out that I like Israelis. They like kids and seem to have a real quality of life where family is of central importance.

A phenomenon in Israel compared to the U.S. is that even people who don’t seem religious usually have a strong sense of tradition and a basis of knowledge about being a Jew. And, the English-speaking community here is very nice. This does not mean everyone is already my new best friend because that does not happen overnight anywhere new, but people are genuinely helpful and welcoming which makes a big difference.

Housing in Tet and Hey includes apartments interspersed with cottages (two floors) and patios (one floor) and attached housing. Many of the cottages and patios are in Misholim which are clusters of houses bordered by roads but with pedestrian walkways inside. If you have been to Nachalot in Jerusalem, you have an idea of what I mean. They are very pleasant and quiet with respite from traffic noise. Also the Mercaz Klitah (Absorption Center) for new immigrants is in Hey.

The cost of housing in Beer Sheva has gone up a lot over the past years (as everywhere in Israel) but is still affordable compared to the center of the country. Apartments, depending upon which shchuna they are in, can run from NIS 400,000 to NIS 550,000, with houses running from NIS 600,000 and up. In Shchuna Hey, garden space is more limited as most people have expanded their homes at the expense of the garden, but still you have something of a garden. Housing averages 85-120 meters, not including the garden.

This is a big adjustment for me coming from Baltimore where I had a large house with a huge yard of about half an acre and a gorgeous garden which I planted myself. On the other hand, if we moved to Jerusalem, we would be looking at small apartments with a lot less space that cost a lot more than we paid here.

Am Yisrael Echad

Beer Sheva itself is a mixed community which I think contributes to its sense of harmonious living. There are all different kinds of people here, religious and not, Sephardic and not, Russians and Ethiopians, all walking around sharing space in peace.

I attend ulpan which has also made a big difference in easing my transition to living in Israel. I am in the pensioner’s ulpan which meets three days a week for three hours each time for 10 months, as compared with ulpan for younger folks which is five hours a day, five days a week for five months. I am the only American in my class but there are five other English speakers, a couple from Brazil, a couple from England, and a man from France. The rest are from Russia, the Ukraine, and Belorussia. My friends at ulpan are beside themselves with joy at living in Israel and especially living in Beer Sheva. I can see that they are going to be very good citizens with much dedication and appreciation for their adopted country.

Ulpan has given me heartfelt relationships with other people as we experience the same language and cultural hurdles. I love being there and come home feeling happy and cared about and I think everyone in the class feels the same way. Thank you, Israeli government.

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

The Biggest Challenge We Are Working On

Eating in Beer Sheva is difficult as we keep a stricter (kashrut) standard than Rabbanut. The idea that keeping kosher in Israel is a trillion times harder than in America really bothers me. We can’t go out to eat much here in Beer Sheva and finding a hechsher (symbol identifying who is certifying that the item is kosher) for meat and chicken is a challenge. Fruits and vegetables also require closer scrutiny. Fruit is more of an issue due to orla (prohibition from eating the fruit of a tree during the first three years), but we are managing. It just requires planning. Compared to the benefits of living here, the hassle of finding produce seems small to me. And the longer we are here, the more we discover shops for produce that is okay.

Adapting to life in Beer Sheva has been harder for my husband. First, he is not in ulpan since he would need an advanced level class which they don’t have, so he does not have the opportunity as I do to make heartfelt connections with other immigrants. Also, he is still looking for a kehilla (community) where he feels comfortable davening (praying) and learning. This is the biggest problem facing us here and it is not a small one.

It seems that Beer Sheva actually has hundreds of shuls (synagogues), but most are Sephardic with the majority being Moroccan. My husband found that he likes the davening in a Moroccan shul but he feels the language and cultural barrier interfere with real connection and friendships. On the other hand, most of the shuls where you find English-speakers are Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) and Young Israel (synagogue-based Orthodox Jewish organization) and he finds the davening does not suit him either. He has found a chassidic (branch of Orthodox Judiasm) shul down in the Old City where he likes the davening, but it’s a 20 minute walk, so right now he only goes on Shabbat (Sabbath).

This is a serious issue for him because he spends a lot of time each day in shul and he expects to find connection there on a personal level as well. Some of that is probably just being in a new place after living 20 plus years in a community where he had time to develop very deep friendships.

I might add that another drawback to living in a place like Beer Sheva is the fact that there are virtually no shiurim (lectures/classes) in English. Now I am personally a bit of a recluse and I need quality of life over access to English shiurim, but I can see that it could be an issue for another kind of person. Even I feel the lack when I read notices of shiurim being offered in Jerusalem.

AACI runs the largest English library in the whole country in Beer Sheva which is a big plus for me. Granted it’s not like the library I left behind in Baltimore, but having access to any kind of English reading material on a regular basis is a huge help.

AACI Beer Sheva

Weather

I have to admit the winter was shockingly cold to me this year. I actually gave away my warmest clothes before coming, on the assumption that we’d have warm weather all year long. During the winter months, it’s mostly very pleasant during the in the 50s to 60s F, but it cools off considerably at night. Like everywhere in Israel, houses lack insulation and good windows, and it’s cold. But by mid-February, the weather starts getting nice, and in the spring and fall the weather is fantastic.

Even when it gets hot during the day, it’s dry heat which means houses stay cool, sitting or walking in shade is cooler, and at night it cools off to the 50s F in the spring/fall and the 60s F mostly in the summer. So far we had a couple of heat waves but we just used fans, closing up the house during the hot part of the day and opening it back up during the evening. Mornings here are very comfortable and it really starts to cool off by about 4:30 p.m. when a nice wind comes up. What I was told by long-time residents was that I should stay indoors during the afternoon when it’s really hot.

Beer Sheva and Beyond

As I mentioned, we don’t yet have a car so we have not done a lot of exploring in the areas outside Beer Sheva. However, on previous trips we went to Mitzpe Ramon which is an hour south, and it is well worth the trip. Also my friend lives in Midrasha Ben Gurion where the BGU (Ben Gurion University) has an environmental studies campus, and it is right next to a wonderful nature reserve that we hiked in a few times. It has breathtaking views like looking at the Grand Canyon where it seems more like a photograph than a real place. Beer Sheva is also about an hour away from Massada, the Dead Sea, and Ein Gedi which is my favorite area in the whole country.

This is my personal view of life in Beer Sheva, and I hope it gave you a sense of the city. For those of you who are looking for somewhere besides the usual places to settle, it’s worth checking out as an affordable alternative. You might just fall in love with it like I did. I would be happy to answer any questions if you would like to leave a comment below.

A version of this post originally appeared in The English Update and can be viewed by clicking here.

We welcome you to be in touch with our Southern Branch office in Beer Sheva:

Miriam Green, Southern Branch Counselor
AACI–Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel
Matnas Yud-Aleph, 11 Mordechai Namir St., Beer Sheva
tel: 08-643-3953
mgreen@aaci.org.il

Subscribe to the AACI Beer Sheva newsletter

For more information about the Southern Branch in Beer Sheva click here.

“We Make A Difference”
JOIN THE FAMILY! Hours: Sunday, Monday, Thursday 9-1!

Meet Beer Sheva’s veteran “green” activist

AACI Beer Sheva’s veteran “green” activist, Ethelea (a.k.a. Leah) Katzenell, tells about environmental action in the capital of the Negev:

When I arrived in Beer Sheva in 1972 on the day before my 22nd birthday, I was young, energetic and in love with the pristine desert surroundings. It was so different from the American commercialism, superficiality, soot and smog, and I decided to strike my roots in the desert soil of this small, newly forming academic town. By September, I’d rented a tiny ground-floor apartment in Shekhunah Aleph, which, at that time, had no paved sidewalks or streetlights and little greenery. However, the daily desert winds did blow around the trash carelessly discarded by inconsiderate people so that many undeveloped spots were littered like garbage dumps. So in the fall of 1972, I prepared a stock of large bags, a batch of colorful bow-tie ribbons on safety pins and a small gift package. I then called out all my neighbors to join me in a one-hour clean-up campaign – offering the one who picked up the most trash a prize. It was a fun event for adults and children which called their attention to the need to keep things clean. This may have been the first community clean-up campaign held in Israel!

By the late 1970s, as an active AACI Southern Branch Board member, I was one of a group of volunteers, along with Joan Avigur, Ahuvah Mitbah and others, who tried to get paper recycling started in Beer Sheva. We convinced the Israeli paper company to put out paper collection bins, but often they were set on fire—and finally the Fire department vetoed the public recycling of paper. Only secure bins remained in certain institutions, like at AACI and at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Library (where I work).

In the early 1980s, we placed recycling boxes for spent batteries in all the photo shops, post offices and, of course, in the B.G.U. Library – which are periodically collected by the postal service and taken out to Ramat Hovav for proper handling – to prevent their poisonous acid from seeping into and polluting the soil and the water supply.

Through AACI, we also lobbied to prevent smoking in public places and for the passage of the national law prohibiting this (finally passed in 1983). Remember that secondhand smoke is no less of a killer than smoking yourself! Again, we persevered and succeeded.

Having accomplished this, in the 1990s we moved on to coordinate an arrangement between the regional plastics company, “Aviv Plastics,” and the Beer Sheva Municipality, whereby the company set out collection bins all over the city for people to dispose of their used (non-refundable) plastic items. The company collected these bottles regularly at its own expense and recycled the plastic, transforming it into outdoor furniture like inexpensive park benches and electric poles (green, durable and waterproof) for use in public areas. This arrangement also helped the city fulfill its mandatory annual recycling quota. By law, all Israeli cities are obliged to recycle a certain percentage of municipal waste. In addition, if we do NOT bury all those voluminous bottles and containers in the local landfill, the landfill can accommodate our garbage for ten years more.

I’m among the founders of Earth’s Promise (at: http://earthspromise.org/), whose mission is: “To improve and safeguard the quality of Israel’s environment by creating replicable grassroots models of sustainable urban development.” We have created a large, successful community garden at the Kalisher Absorption Center, which now serves as a model for both urban agriculture and intergenerational community action. We have also established a citywide network of composters and offer ecological training courses.

By the year 2000, my pet project was finding practical/artistic uses for recycled pastel-colored plastic fruit/vegetable bags. I tried to convince the local colleges that teach art teachers and all the community centers that offer handicrafts classes to instigate special courses in “Recycling Art” or “The Art of Recycling,” which would include the creative reuse of clean plastic bags as raffia material, for the crocheting of colorful, flexible, durable, waterproof sunhats and handbags, or the forming of game balls, etc. Plastic bags are terrible for the environment, because all petroleum-based products give off toxic fumes when burned and aren’t biodegradable when buried.

As a longtime member of local, regional and national “green” organizations, ranging from “Amutat Beer Sheva Yeruka” and “Negev Bar-Kayama” to “Adam, Teva ve-Din” and “Greenpeace Israel,” I sit on the Municipal Environment Committee as a delegate for the citizenry. I have attended many meetings between the third sector and leaders of Israeli industry as part of a campaign to promote transparency, “responsible care,” environmental awareness and cooperation across the board – to achieve win-win scenarios for the economy and the environment.

In 2005, I instigated a project to identify environmental problems in all 15 residential neighborhoods in the city. I “drafted” and trained 50 volunteers, showing them what to look for in the public domain (e.g. rusty objects, exposed wiring, standing water, potholes in sidewalks & roads, etc.) and how to effectively report such things to the Municipality for repairs. I also asked them to share what they’d learned with others, especially their children.

Now Beer Sheva is among those few cities in Israel at the forefront of “green” action. The city has agreed to participate in a national trial – to separate liquid and solid wastes in the homes. The city is promoting the “green” education of the public and is currently implementing a special citywide program for the recycling of: plastic, paper, cardboard, batteries, used clothing, electronic parts, CDs — setting out dedicated bins in all the neighborhoods. My latest, personal project is to get glass recycling into the program as well. Wish me luck!

All in all, it’s lovely living in Beer Sheva, especially as the city becomes cleaner and more beautiful every day – eternal urban oasis.

“My Oasis in Beersheba”

by Ethelea Katzenell
(c2007)

To awaken to the lovely sound
Of birds in morning song,
To the touch of light,
Warm sun on my cheek.
To rise in tranquility
And gladly face the day.
The cool morning breeze
Blowing the past behind me.
My home, my private garden,
Sanctuary, safe haven, Eden.

More rave than rant

If this article sounded great to you, don’t miss the next session!
AACI Aliyah Conversations for Olim in the Absorption Process

Insights into Israeli Life and Culture through Song

You are invited to join AACI for our informal Aliyah conversations with olim to discuss the challenges—the highs and lows—you’ve been facing in Israel. Join us on Monday, June 6, at 7:45 p.m., at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim to hear special guest Hector Marrero who will present a workshop on “Learning Israeli Culture and Language through Song.” Find out how some of the nationally known songs are key to understanding life and language in Israel. Please RSVP to AACI Counselor Miriam Green at mgreen@aaci.org.il. The sessions are geared towards olim within their first 5 years in the country, but we’re happy to make exceptions. We’ll meet at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim on Rehov Ye’elim in Shechunah Hey, Beer Sheva. Entrance through the parking lot behind the “Gesher.” There is now a ramp for wheelchair access to Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim. Take the no. 9 bus!

 
 
 
By YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO 
05/26/2011 13:07
in the Jerusalem Post

A new AACI initiative introduces English-speaking olim to Beersheba to the finer points of living in this country.

Eighteen months ago, something new and exciting started to happen down south. “For the first time ever, Beersheba began enjoying a large influx of English-speaking new immigrants,” says Miriam Green, Southern Branch counselor for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI).

Since 1948, Beersheba has served as “immigrant city” for tens of thousands of newcomers, but very few hailed from English-speaking countries.

“The change was amazing,” Green says. “I’d love to say the English-speakers were coming because we’re such a welcoming city and the word has gotten out. But realistically there might be several other explanations, including our local economy. It’s still easier to buy a house here than in the center of the country. Then, too, our schools – first grade through university – are great. There are lots of reasons why they may be coming, but whatever they are, for the first time, Englishspeaking olim are flocking in.”

Green, whose job involves helping new immigrants adjust to life in Israel, saw a common pattern among the newcomers.

“Many seemed to be suffering culture shock,” she smiles, noting that condition is hardly unusual.

“We all go through it, it’s common, but many of these newcomers were all expressing the same concerns and asking the same questions,” she continues. “I started to think about it.

One of the things AACI likes to do is connect people. Since we had a relatively small group of veteran immigrants from English-speaking countries, maybe we should put them together with the new immigrants to help the newbies through those first months. The older olim could help the newcomers see the bigger picture in the aliya experience. The new olim could gain practical advice about Beersheba in general, and seek help and advice for any specific issues they might have.”

AACI’s “rant and rave” sessions were born. New immigrants – up to five years was suggested, but in fact anyone was welcome – were invited, as was the English-speaking community as a whole.

“The idea was to let the newcomers ask any questions they had, seek advice on anything, whether it was where the best place to buy groceries was, how best to find a job, or tips on how to master Hebrew,” she says. “Whatever issues anyone needed help dealing with, we were ready to offer our own experiences.”

Aviva Weisel-Eichler, a long-term immigrant from Connecticut, was invited to chair the sessions, which started with a no-format agenda. She was just asked to make sure everyone had a chance to express themselves.

“I was delighted to do it,” Weisel-Eichler says. “It was a giant information-swapping fest – it sounded like a great idea to me. That first session – held a year ago, in a meeting room at the absorption center – attracted about 30 new immigrants. It was a very mixed group – all ages, backgrounds and professions. They came from the US, Canada, England, South Africa and Australia, but also included English-speakers from non- English-speaking countries.

A name change was needed, Weisel-Eichler said.

“I know they were called ‘Rant and Rave’ sessions at first, but I have to tell you, there wasn’t much ‘ranting and raving’ going on. No one did much ranting. It was all pretty positive,” she recalls. “Afterward, everyone was excited about how well it went. The new olim were grateful that we’d brought them together with the more senior immigrants. Everyone, new and old, seemed to enjoy the interchange.”

The second session a month later was a little more organized, Weisel-Eichler notes. “We had a discussion topic, ‘Dealing with Bituah Leumi’ [the National Insurance Institute]. That, too, went very well. But after that, the number of attendees started to drop off. Maybe they’d had their questions answered and they’d moved on.

“We started to offer something a little more structured, inviting a speaker who could offer specific expertise. A subsequent session featured Alan Cohen, a former Bank Hapoalim manager formerly from London, who talked about banking in Israel, explaining how the system worked and inviting questions. After that, we featured a speaker from Tnuat Or, an organization devoted to the development of the Negev. The number of attendees began to grow again.”

In the year since those first sessions, invited speakers have covered any number of topics, some requested by the newcomers, others by professionals who volunteered to come and share their expertise. Even the name applied to the group meetings evolved: “Rant and Rave” gave way to the less colorful – but probably more accurate – “Conversations with Olim.”

TWO RECENT speakers drew especially large crowds – not just of new olim, either, but of immigrants of several years’ standing.

In March, David Brock, senior lecturer in business management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a 2001 immigrant from New Zealand, came to offer some tips on learning Hebrew.

“That was one of our best sessions,” Green says. “A primary concern for all new immigrants is learning Hebrew, and David offered some great ideas.”

One of Brock’s suggestions came from his own experience: As a new lecturer at BGU, he had to learn Hebrew quickly, so he contacted a retired gentleman, another scholar, who enjoyed visitors. The two would just get together to talk – in Hebrew – twice a week.

According to Brock, both benefited from the activity.

Following Brock’s presentation, several newbies offered additional advice of their own: “Repeat phrases until you know them by heart,” “Read short paragraphs from newspapers over and over again,” “Listen to the radio,” “Watch children’s television,” and “Borrow easy-to-read books – or better yet, borrow someone’s first-grader.”

In April, another top-ranked professional, Zvi Ophir, presented a workshop on “Reading Israeli Body Language: Rude Gestures and Other Cultural Differences.” Ophir, who presents his body-language workshops for business groups, teachers and the IDF, also teaches English at Yeshiva High School in Sussiya and Dimona, having made aliya from England with his family 41 years ago. Using film clips, photos and drawings, Ophir kept the audience both laughing and learning.

One of his drawings represented the quintessentially Israeli hand signal: all five fingers closed together, pointing upward.

“What does this mean?” Ophir asked. Only a few guessed: “In Israel, it means ‘Be patient.

Take it easy. Give me a minute.’” But make that same gesture in Italy, someone pointed out, and you might find yourself going home in a wheelchair.

Using the now-famous photo of US President Barack Obama talking on the telephone to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his feet on the desk, soles to the camera, Ophir discussed the sensitivity of Middle Easterners to being shown the sole of another’s shoe.

“Keep your feet on the floor,” he suggested. “Don’t cross your legs so that the sole of your shoe shows if you’re sitting with an Arab.”

Looking at the group assembled to hear his talk, Ophir says, he could tell from their facial expressions, and where and how they sat in the meeting room, that the new immigrants were appreciating the presentation.

“They were very interested, many were leaning forward a little, which betrays strong interest,” he recalls. “It was a great session – fully interactive. It wasn’t a lecture. There was something going on between us, bouncing back and forth. We were learning from each other.”

“I’ve been to almost every ‘Conversation’ session,” says Hector Marrero, a sociologist who made aliya from Mexico four years ago. “They’ve all been helpful and interesting. The how-to-learn-Hebrew session was maybe the best… I just hope the sessions will continue.”

Not only will the sessions continue, says Green, but future topics are sure to keep people coming.

“Martin Stone, a veteran immigrant from London, will be making a presentation on how to read your bills and invoices. Another session will focus on what adult education is available in Beersheba. Finding employment is always a hot topic for new olim, and we’ll also have a session on nonprofessional jobs that might be an option. For newcomers who don’t have much Hebrew yet, a job such as working in a hotel might offer a chance to earn some income and learn Hebrew at the same time,” she notes.

Learning Hebrew should be viewed as a long-term process, Green adds. To put it into perspective, she tells of a conversation she had with a very new immigrant from Florida, one who’s been struggling with the language.

“At the end of one of the ‘Conversations’ sessions, this mother came up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know that today my son had the best day of his entire life,’” she remembers.

When Green asked what had happened, the mother said, “My son is in sixth grade. He doesn’t have any Hebrew yet, but today, after school, he went out with a group of his new Hebrew-speaking classmates. They ate pizza, they rode their bikes all over the city and played together until after dark, when he came home all by himself. I’ve never seen him so happy.

“You see, back in Florida, he had to stay in the house or the backyard. There was no way we could allow him to be outside playing like that with friends, riding their bikes all over, unsupervised. Kids don’t have that kind of freedom where we lived before,” she explained.

“So here’s how I see it,” the mother continued. “We’ll all struggle to learn Hebrew. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes, because we’re sold on this country. Already my son is flourishing here – what can be more important than that?”