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Keeper of the Bees

Barbara Bensoussan

Musician, public speaker, educator, businesswoman, storyteller — and now beekeeper — Amalia Haas has discovered in these buzzing insects a fulcrum around which she could focus her other talents

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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While many of us run from bees, afraid of being stung, Amalia Haas of Cleveland runs towards them, and for good reason. This musician, public speaker, educator, businesswoman, storyteller — and now beekeeper — has discovered in these buzzing insects not only a captivating hobby, but a fulcrum around which she could focus her other talents. And the more Amalia learned about bees, the more she realized bees had to teach her about community, purpose, and the awe-inspiring ingenuity of Hashem’s Creation.

I first met Amalia at the Jewish Women Entrepreneurs annual conference last fall, which she attended in connection with her business, Honey Bee Jewish and Bee Awesome. Through her company, Amalia sells honey as holiday gifts and party favors, and offers services ranging from hive removal and pollinator landscaping to workshops and programs in schools, businesses, and community organizations. Yet bees weren’t always part of this Chicagoan’s life.

Learning and Educating

Amalia’s self-assurance and articulate speech come from her background as the child of academics: Her father is a PhD biochemist, and her mother was one of the first women in the country to serve as a professor of education, at the University of Chicago. “There was a lot of focus on origins in my family — why things happen, how they happen,” Amalia says, “as well as an emphasis on educating people.”

Amalia attended Oberlin College, where she studied voice and piano performance. (She also plays the guitar and dulcimer.) In addition to evolving as a musician, she was deeply influenced by the college’s emphasis on sustainability; for example, their Environmental Studies building includes a Living Machine full of plants that clean and recycle all wastewater used in the building.

She also grew in Jewish observance in those years, spending summers learning in Eretz Yisrael and then an additional three years there after she finished at Oberlin. She took classes at Michlalah teachers’ college and went on to earn a Master’s in Jewish Education from Yeshiva University. After her marriage, Amalia and her husband Adam, a medical student, spent ten years on college campuses at Oberlin and Cleveland State, where she served as the director of Hillel Houses. There, she directed programming and did kiruv work.

 

The couple moved to Beachwood, Ohio (outside Cleveland) 18 years ago, when their oldest was two and Adam was beginning a residency in anesthesiology. Amalia decided to start a vegetable garden on their property, using organic methods. To her surprise, she soon had an eager audience of neighborhood kids. “The children were so astonished by my garden!” she says. “These were mostly Jewish kids who were very privileged in many ways; they had nice homes, nice clothing, the latest gadgets. But they were lacking in a fundamental human inheritance: The knowledge that food comes from plants, and the feeling of putting your hands in the soil, of turning it over to see the roots and bugs underneath.”

Seeing how mesmerized they were, she called a few of the parents at the start of August, before that dreaded-by-mothers hiatus between day camp and the start of school. “I’m doing a little day camp thing,” she proposed. The demand amazed her: She began with 8 kids and soon found herself with 45. She’d work together with the kids in her yard, and these children became fired up. 
“We spent hundreds of dollars sending them to camp,” the mystified parents told Amalia, “and they didn’t seem excited by it. Then, for much less money, they come to you, work hard, get filthy, and tell us, ‘Wow! It was amazing!’ ”

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