Gezer Region of Israel
Leawood’s second Sister City relationship was established on September 16, 2003 between Leawood and the Regional Council Gezer, Israel. (pronounced “Geh-zer”)
The relationship was formed in the interest of peace and in the spirit of cooperation, tolerance and mutual understanding between Leawood and the Regional Council of Gezer.
In early 2001, Mayor Dunn received a visit from the Head of the Jewish Federation, Todd Stetner, who was accompanied by Leawood resident Jim Badzin and Shimon Binoun, who was the Gezer Regional Manager. They were seeking an area in the United States to potentially form a relationship. In addition to Leawood, Overland Park, Wichita and Johnson County were under consideration. The City of Leawood was the only interested party in further exploring the possibility. Leawood viewed the relationship as a wonderful opportunity.
With the advent of 911 in September of 2001, communications stalled. In March of 2002, the City considered a visit to the Gezer Region, but was informed by the State Department that it was not a good time for international travel.
In the summer of 2002, the mayor and City Administrator received an invitation for an official visit from Project Interchange funded by the American Jewish Committee that included ten individuals from across the United States. Marvin Szneler, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee (JCRB/AJC) was also invited to accompany the group. The delegation visit to Israel encompassed a seven-day, all-day seminar format with speakers and opportunities to learn about the Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis that lived throughout the area. While still not a favorable time to travel, the group decided to go ahead with the trip.
The Mayor’s group stayed two additional days at the end of Project Interchange to meet with officials in the Gezer Regional Council to learn and examine the areas of the Gezer Region. This wonderful experience fostered the desire to proceed with the relationship. From July 2002 to September of 2003, the groups worked together to establish a resolution of agreement to become Sister Cities. Via a visual, real-time conference, Mayor Peggy Dunn and the Leawood Governing Body and Mayor Peter Weiss and the Gezer Regional Council signed the agreement simultaneously.
There have been active cultural exchanges where delegation members have been educated regarding municipal policy, management, economics, science, high tech industries, cultural arts, education, sports, trade and technology. Members of official delegations have included representatives of political and administrative bodies, members of social organizations, societies, schools and universities. Both cities have encouraged youth exchanges to further develop the relationships.
Gezer was an ancient royal Canaanite city-state in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains at the border of the Shfela region. It became a major fortified city in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE, later destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Gezer is often mentioned in the Old Testament and in the Egyptian records of the New Kingdom, from Thutmose III (1479–26 bc) to Merneptah (1213–04 bc). The Amarna letters mention kings of Gezer swearing loyalty to the Egyptian Pharaoh. It wasn’t until Solomon’s reign, hundreds of years later, that Gezer became part of the Israeli empire. It happened only because an Egyptian Pharaoh devastated the city, then offered it to Solomon as a dowry when the king married his daughter.
The Gezer Region is located approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Its importance was due to the strategic position above a crossroads of the Via Maris (the “Way of the Sea”) and the road to Jerusalem and Jericho, both important trade routes which serviced traders, warriors and travelers for thousands of years. There were strong commercial connections between Gezer and Egypt and pictures of the ancient city have been found in both Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq).
In 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman officially recognized the State of Israel. Coincidentally, that same year, Leawood was incorporated as a City.
Tel Gezer, an archaeological site, is now an Israeli National Park. Discoveries that are related to biblical archaeology include eight monumental megaliths from one of the largest Canaanite temples in Israel, an imposing Solomonic six-chambered gate identical in almost every detail to the two gates at Hazor and Megiddo and a double cave beneath the high area probably used for divinatory purposes. Thirteen inscribed boundary stones make it the first positively identified Biblical city. A large water system with a tunnel descending to a spring is similar to that found in Jerusalem.
Leawood Park in Gezer
Dedicated by the people of Gezer to the people of Leawood, the park is comprised of the Leawood Square, and the Leawood Trail. This park was dedicated in October of 2011 during a visit by a delegation from Leawood. Members of the delegation, which included Mayor Peggy Dunn and several members of the City Council, were fortunate to participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony.
The Leawood Square’s central feature is a large sculpture of Shimon Hatarsi, the last son of the Hashmonaim, created by Gezer artist Enon DeGroot. A painting by DeGroot hangs in the lobby of Leawood City Hall.
The Leawood Trail is a wide paved and lighted walking path. There is signage along the path, one sign pointing in the direction of Gezer municipal offices indicating a distance of 220 yards and another pointing in the opposite direction of the City of Leawood, Kansas indicating a distance of 6,887 miles.
Leawood honored its sister city, the Gezer Region of Israel, and celebrated their historic bond of friendship with the establishment of Gezer Park in October of 2009. A delegation from Gezer attended the dedication of the park.
The unique design of the park reflects the contours of the State of Israel, with the Sea of Galilee on one end and the Dead Sea on the other – connected by a 700 foot stone wadi that carries water from the west end to the east end of the park, representing the Jordan River.
The park’s landscaping has incorporated plant and tree life native to Kansas that most closely resembles that of the Gezer Region. The east end of the park features a celebration area that includes a Havdalah garden, complete with aromatic herbs and flowers, and a shelter that can be draped to create a sukkah. Adjacent to this is a fire pit area where people gather for special occasions and ceremonies.
Natural stone harvested and transported from Jerusalem adorns the parks structures, while the grape vines and ancient planting calendar remind us of our shared agricultural roots. Rolling hills on the northern edge of the park symbolize the Golan Heights.
At the west end is the children’s play area adjoined to an archaeological dig site designed to educate children about the rich history of the Gezer Region, as well as supporting our shared future.
Public art has been incorporated at two locations: “Avanim Vetseiadim” (Stones & Steps) and “Harvest Tablet” both created by Israeli artists Ilan Averbach and Gadi Fraiman, respectively. The tablet is a replica of the famous Gezer Calendar, excavated from the Tel Gezer site between 1902 and 1909.
The park’s many features pay tribute to our sister city and will serve to educate and connect American and Israeli communities for generations to come.