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Look North: the ‘Fink tank’ transfers a host of ideas from the UK to Karmiel

Enjoying the scenery on a Karmiel trip to the Golan

Four years ago my wife Natalie and I took the monumental decision to make aliyah from grey, dank Manchester in the north of England to the undoubtedly sunnier skies but Great Unknown of Karmiel (God's vineyard) in the Lower Galilee. We chose this city nestling peacefully in the Beit HaKerem Valley after no more than a fleeting glance ten years earlier from a settlement, Har Chalutz, perched high upon the summit of a nearby mountain. How apt at that moment seemed the iconic words of Balaam, "How goodly are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel." Such are the caprices of life that often we take the most fundamental and destiny-changing decisions based on little more than hope and feelings. Or are things really beshert? Are we in reality only rubber-stamping plans already drawn up for us at some loftier place?

I had done some pre-aliyah reading online about ESRA before we came and so knew a little about this English-speaking organization which appeared to be what we were looking for. We were aware however that the nearest committee at that time was in Kfar Vradim, too far from Karmiel as we then had no car. A chance meeting with Mike Cronin, who had overheard and recognized my alleged north Manchester accent (I'm told that I have one but I don't believe a word of it!) at Beit Knesset Kehilat HaKerem, resulted in an invitation to the Cronins' charming home in mountain-top Lavon just to the north of Karmiel. Now, Lavon is but a stone's throw from Har Chalutz, where all this began. The circle was closed. Still think things are not beshert? 

A Karmiel quiz . . . and we’ve got a winner

There we met Mike's wife and ESRA stalwart Frankie, with whom many readers of this piece will be familiar, and she ventured: "Have you ever heard of ESRA?" She explained that they had recently moved north from the center of the country and were hoping to start a local committee. Were we interested, she wanted to know, and that's how the Karmiel-Misgav ESRA committee began in 2010. A committee was formed under Frankie's able chairmanship, and our first function was a talk on the therapeutic benefits of laughter. This gratifyingly attracted a good sized audience of local Anglophones both from within the city and the surrounding Misgav area. We were in business!

I already had some experience of fundraising and function-organizing from my days on the social committee at Kehilat Sha'arei Shalom in Manchester, and I was able to draw on some of those experiences and activities. Our (ex-Manchester) annual quiz is now a firm favorite and the number of participants has grown steadily over its five appearances to date to such an extent that it's now our main fundraising event. A summer car rally with participants searching for answers to given clues in the beautiful rolling hills of the Galilee and finishing with a garden brunch is another Mancunian import and will, I hope, become another annual event.

In between, our committee arranges all manner of varied talks, a fortnightly discussion group is running, in association with Karmiel English Speakers' Club (ex British Olim Society), trips out to the countryside, places of interest and theaters, a handicraft group, a book circle, games evenings and more. Some of our members are actively engaged in volunteering in different capacities and the committee is able to donate money from time to time for the benefit of local underprivileged children in Karmiel's children's village. 

A display of handicrafts at a meeting

I firmly believe that ESRA as an organization that greatly enriches the lives of native English-speakers in Israel not only by providing social events and fellowship in their mother tongue, but most importantly, with others who share their Anglo culture. There is an increasing number of such new immigrants here in the Galilee largely due to the huge success of Nefesh B'Nefesh's innovative "Go North" program amongst whom we were pioneers. This set out from its beginnings to attract immigrants from North America and the United Kingdom, who might otherwise head for the overcrowded center of Israel, to come instead to the scenic and invigorating but largely under-populated north.

If you who are reading this and live in the Karmiel area, ask via the magazine to be added to Karmiel ESRA's database so you can stay informed of upcoming events. Also ESRA Karmiel is always looking to strengthen its committee with new members and so, if you have some free time, why not offer your services? You won't regret it. 



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Sunday, 16 June 2024

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