We were out the door by 7:30 am to meet Orit from Etgarim by the side of the road just outside Zichron Yaakov. We followed her to Yokneam, which is in a beautiful green, hilly area. We drove through what I believe are the outskirts of Yokeam, passing through some neighborhoods of mid sized homes with land (yards are hard to find in many cities here) interspersed with animal sheds and crumbling buildings. Eventually we reached a JNF park area. On the dirt road into the park, we hit a construction delay (always construction!) but made it to the park well before the gan was scheduled to arrive. We met the madrichim from Etgarim, Gilad and Pasha, and their supervisor Sharon. Noah and Eitan tried out the zip line, which went up about 25 feet and all seemed to be in working order. The gan arrived, ten kids with three teachers, and we all did the program together. These kids had been working with Etgarim every two weeks for the school year. This was their end of the year activity; most of the time the ropes are set up on trees near their gan. The kids were ages 3-7. Pasha had been the madrich of the kids all year and the were so excited to see him and so affectionate, and he was just as happy to see them. They clearly have a special bond. The other regular madrich had started a summer course and could not be there but Gilad and Sharon were immediately enthusiastic and involved, as were the gan’s teachers. Together, kids and adults, they were a team.
So the program was like this. We did an intro activity all together, and then we divided into two groups – one for the zip line and one for the ropes course. Ilana, Eitan, and Naomi did all the activities with the kids. Even Ilana did the zip line! Noah helped to spot the kids on the ropes course. Then we all made pita together (much like at Eretz Bereshit), and we went on a te’ul down a wooded path, past a few caves and a spring. The kids all took turns playing and splashing in the water, and running around and listening to their echos in the under the large rock overhangs. It was work to keep the kids all on course, but their joy was infectious. Donna was especially engaged with the kids in the gan, she has a natural talent with children (proof—she can manage mine). Gilad showed the Oberlander kids some other fun things along the way, such as a tunnel that ran parallel to the path but was covered by arches of what looked like hay, a log on which to walk across the spring, various small caves and cutouts in the rock, and after the gan kids had left a spring pool that was under a rock overhang and had a cave in the back. Naomi, Eitan, and Ilana all explored that area thoroughly with Pasha and were soaked and happy. The Oberlander kids had fun, and are still talking about how cute the kids were.
During the first part of the program, more and more people started showing up: Arkady the partnership 2000 Yokneam coordinator, the regional director of Etgarim, a representative from Yokneam’s education department, the Israeli JFed of St. Louis oversight person, and a couple of women I think from the Jewish Agency. To me (and to Noah) it seemed to be getting a bit ridiculous. Orit was insistent that this was a big deal for Etgarim; if I understood correctly they had not been matched before through Partnership 2000 tzedakah projects. They do most of their fundraising in Israel. Also, they were very touched by what the boys had done – starting an organization was to them something very special. We had some time to chat with all of these folks. We learned that Yokenam has 48 total gans, 4 of them serve kids with specials needs, and the gan that we were with today serves the most severely affected children. Lily, one of the teachers, also told us because of the challenges that these particular kid face, they do not get to experience outdoor activities such as these very often. She spoke passionately about how important these activities are to the kids’ development. From the Yokneam rep, we learned that the population of Yokneam has quadrupled in the recent years, and 80% of its population is 40 years old or younger. I had always pictured it as a development town down on its luck, but that it clearly not the case anymore. From Arkady we learned that we were not the only St. Louisans to visit Yokneam in the last week: the Green Family was there, the Serota family was there just a couple of days ago working on another tzedakah project, and five teens just arrived as shlichim for the summer camps. Apparently a couple of those kids knew us (maybe from Ladue) and wanted to come today but could not miss camp. We also had some good conversations with the other JFed and Jewish Agency folks. The reps did their jobs – we left feeling very connected to Yokneam and its residents, and feeling very good about the Yokneam community. Etgarim presented Noah, David, and Atian a packet and certificate, Yokneam education department gave them each a Bar Mitvah present of a tallis/tefillin case, and somebody (I’ve lost track of who) gave our family a couple of books about Yokneam and about Israel and some T-shirts for Naomi, Eitan, and Ilana. We will be packing an extra bag to bring all of it home. And it was very nice to have Donna with us for all of it; it was more of a community event.
After leaving Yokenam, we stopped in Zichron Yaakov for lunch. We were hoping to get to the First Aliyah museum, but by the time we finished lunch it was too late. So we walked around a bit and then headed out. On our way our of town we drove into Kibbutz Maayan Tzvi which shares the same hill with Zichron, and where Sima stayed for five months in 1988. It is still has the same breathtakingly beautiful view that it had then, but a few other things have changed. The dorm and all of the other buildings in the area where Sima lived have been knocked down, and they are in the midst of all kids of construction. It looks like they are building single family homes –an area of private housing on the kibbutz land. The views are incredible, the location fantastic, and the houses look very nice. Mike, are you interested?
Naomi’s highlight of the day – she found a license plate by the side of the road in the park in Yokneam. She loves it and has washed it off and is taking it home with her. Wait until Daniel Fredman sees this one!
Only in Israel story of the day: While we were in Yokneam, El Dan the rental car company called and told me that though they know I have rented the car until the 9th, I have to bring in the car today and exchange it for another. OK. I don’t ask any questions and I tell them that I can do it in Netanya between 3 and 4 pm. Then they call back and say that I have to go to Petach Tikvah to make the exchange. I tell them no. They say OK. When they call a third time I am beginning to get curious about what is actually wrong with this car that I am driving and why they need it so badly. They assure me that it is safe, and the best I can figure out from them is that the registration expires tomorrow. So I take the car to the office in Netanya, and they tell me that because the gas tank is only half full I am going to get charged extra. I told them that I was doing them a favor and I was not going to pay any extra to fill up the car. So they called the boss, and he agreed that they would fill it up at gas station price, and made a note of it on my contract. Then I went home and parallel parked the car with only inches to spare on both sides. I took a picture. I felt very Israeli. And by the way, El Al has still not found our car seat.
Back in Netanya, we met Elisa and the kids. We strolled along the promenade, played in the parks, and had dinner in the kikar. The girls did various dancing and gymnastics moves everywhere we went – they were so fun to watch. The time flew by, we said goodnight. Now everyone is clean and well-fed, and hopefully going to bed. Goodnight!