The Story of Cleveland and Beit She’an: A Week Long Trip to a 25-Year-Old Sister City Relationship

– Written by Ezra Ellenbogen

The Honorable Mayor Frank G. Jackson speaking during the 2019 Inaugural Sister Cities Conference as he welcomed Beit-She’an as Cleveland’s newest sister city – Image from CJN Photos/Ed Carroll

Beit-She’an, a beautiful city in Northern Israel, is the newest sister city of Cleveland, Ohio. On Day Two of the 2019 Inaugural Sister Cities Conference (May 2nd), Beit-She’an was named as the 23rd sister city of Cleveland and as the second of those in Israel (the first being Holon, which was made a sister city in 1977). The event was attended by representatives of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland*, J. David Heller (president and CEO of NRP Enterprises), the Honorable Mayor Frank G. Jackson of Cleveland, the Honorable Mayor Eddy Kraus of Solon, the Honorable Judge Daniel Polster (a Judge for the Northern District of Ohio), the Honorable Kevin Kelly (the President of the Cleveland City Council), the Honorable Dani Dayan (the deputy Consul General of Israel in New York), and a significant number of community members. Unfortunately, the Israeli mayors involved were unable to attend but they recorded a video message to be shown at the event. By looking at those attending, one can see that this was a highly anticipated event.[1] However, while it may only now be official, Beit-She’an and Cleveland, as well as Valley of Springs*, have been working together since 1996. In fact, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland  has been working closely with Beit-She’an/Valley of Springs continuously for nearly 25 years!

In 1995, a group of people associated with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland visited Beit-She’an. This trip sparked a sister city relationship that has actively lasted over 20 years and has developed the cities involved as well as bettered their international reputations.[2]

At the time, the Jewish Agency for Israel* was encouraging many international cities to cooperate with Israeli cities for the purpose of development between cities. The Jewish Federation of Cleveland was then inspired by the Jewish Agency for Israel to create a sister city relationship with an Israeli city. Three locations were visited, and Beit-She’an was chosen. “We thought about which place would have an attraction for people from Cleveland. The archeological site had begun to be developed there and it had a very grand Roman amphitheater, so we thought that would be a special attraction,” stated Stephen Hoffman, the former President of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The Federation attendees enjoyed their time there, engaging with the people they met and the sights they saw. They were further impressed with Beit-She’an’s efficient government and thought that Cleveland could help in the development of the city. In 1996, the partnership between the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Beit-She’an/Valley of Springs was started.

Two people were instrumental in the partnership’s success, especially early on. Arthur Naparstek and Robert Goldberg are credited with being the people who played the largest roles in the partnership’s success. Naparstek, a professor of social work and former dean of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, used his expertise to help develop the community and housing. He promoted the cooperation of the local community members as well as the overall cooperation between Cleveland and Beit-She’an. Goldberg was very involved in the development and progress of Beit-She’an and its partnership with Cleveland. Both helped to get Beit-She’an and regional governments to work together, which allowed Valley of Springs to benefit concurrently with Beit-She’an. The sister city relationship also helped the region create better rapport with their two adjacent nations (Jordan and State of Palestine), such as when Jordanian and Israeli veterans from the Six-Day-War came together for a peaceful meal in Beit-She’an. The partnership, with the help of Goldberg and Naparstek, was able to encourage regional cooperation not only within Israel but also between Valley of Springs/Beit-She’an and Jordan and State of Palestine.

Within the long existence of the relationship, many initiatives have been formed. For instance, the Jewish Federation founded a choir group to accompany the Cleveland HaZamir and the two have worked together extensively. Projects like the HaZamir choir group helped create a cultural connection between Beit-She’an and Cleveland, which has provided great learning experiences to people from both cities. Moreover, modern initiatives, while they may be focused on helping Beit-She’an, are also helping Cleveland. One great example of this is the “Volunteer Beit-She’an” program, which allows for Clevelanders who are 50 or older to volunteer in Beit-She’an. Not only does this help Beit-She’an, but it also provides unique experiences to many Clevelanders.[3] Another example (one that has been in the news recently) is the Jewish Federation’s investment in STEM education opportunities in Israel with an emphasis on Beit-She’an.[4] And even then, Beit-She’an has helped develop Cleveland. A very memorable example of this was when the CEO of the Cleveland Public Library was inspired by Beit-She’an’s unique and community-building library. In the library, the children run the programs of the library, allowing for them to create clubs and activities that they know will interest the community. The CEO then planned to make Cleveland’s own Public Library have a similar system.[5] The sister city relationship has provided empowerment and development to Beit-She’an, Valley of Springs, and Cleveland as well as unique travel experiences for Clevelanders.

What makes Clevelanders’ travels to Beit-She’an and Valley of Springs so special is not only how amazing the country is, but also the many similarities between Cleveland and Beit-She’an. Joe Cimperman (the President of Global Cleveland), who called his trip there “life changing,” was reminded of Cleveland’s West Side Market when he visited markets in Israel.[6] Both Cleveland and Beit-She’an are lead with strong civil leadership (itself as a result of the sister city relationship) and most Clevelanders who visit Beit-She’an note that the cities have “a million similarities,[7]” especially with the friendliness of the people from both cities. Furthermore, the two cities have similar histories full of triumphs and downfalls and a similarly large amount of diversity. For these reasons, it is likely that any of the over 500 Northeast Ohioans who visit Beit-She’an/Valley of Springs annually could tell you that the two cities were made to be partnered.

Now, with the official ceremony of the sister city relationship between Cleveland and Beit-She’an/Valley of Springs, one cannot imagine what wonders lie ahead. From possible library innovation to continued civic cooperation, it seems nothing is beyond reach. Cleveland benefits from the relationship, Beit-She’an benefits from the relationship, Valley of Springs benefits from the relationship, and the citizens of the areas benefit from the relationship. Truly, the Beit-She’an/Valley of Springs-Cleveland sister city relationship has been one of Cleveland’s most successful and influential partnerships.

Ezra’s blog – One Page Stories 

*Glossary of Terms

Beit-She’an – A city in northern Israel

Valley of Springs – The Regional District that surrounds Beit-She’an, but does not include the city

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland – A group that is, according to them: “the only organization in Cleveland that focuses on the health and vitality of the entire Jewish community[8]

Jewish Agency for Israel – An international organization that has been vital in the success of the global Jewish community and that has “been securing a vibrant Jewish future for generations to come” since 1929[9]







[7] Quote from Joe Cimperman;