On June 20-22, 290 Jews from Pittsburgh visited us. Approximately 80 families came, some with three generations – grandparents, children and grandchildren. For us, active members of the Karmiel-Misgav-Pittsburg Partnership, this was the culmination of our work with the Partnership over the past year, and an enormous satisfaction following months of work and preparation.
From my point of view and that of the Partnership, this was also a significant milestone for the journey we have traveled during the past year-and-a-half
. For me, it all began a year-and-a-half ago when the Mayor of the Misgav Regional Council, Ron Shani, approached me to assume the position of volunteer Partnership chairman, on behalf of Misgav.
After years of volunteer activity in my locality (Manof) as head of the development committee, I decided that the time had come to volunteer on a regional level; and I agreed, with curiosity and looking forward to the challenge. After an amazing and educational visit to the Pittsburgh Jewish community in November 2010, I understood what I had gotten myself into. The Partnership was at a crossroad of a change in leadership and a focus on leadership and public activity. Together with our colleagues in Pittsburgh, we have undergone a structured and guided process in which we have defined a new vision, goals, and values for the Partnership, where the word and concept of ‘connection’ is at the core.
The connection is between the communities, a connection between young people and adults, a connection based on learning, professional activity, joint interest, and any other possible connection. A connection between people, a connection that creates a sense of family, a sense of home – both for them here and for us there – a connection that maintains us as one united Jewish people.
In order to implement the new direction, we defined a new structure with 5 committees: a youth connections committee, an adult connections committee, a regional development committee, an advertising and volunteer development committee, and a resource development and evaluation committee, where each of them has two chairpersons here (one from Misgav and one from Karmiel) and 2 in Pittsburgh.
This was a wonderful opportunity to enlist new and quality people: Yiphat Ragoler, Eilon Litwitz, Galit and Arie Erner (from Yuvalim), and Reuven Kretzo from Eshchar were all recruited and assumed the positions as chairpersons of the committees on behalf of Misgav. In Karmiel, Galit Hoffman, Karmiel Partnership chair and chairpersons for other committees including Yuval Kisus, Lilach Rene, Michal Verner and Yaron Mishori, were all recruited, as well as new people who will serve as active members of the various committees.
During the past six months, there were two visits of the delegations of the new and continuing chairpersons to Pittsburgh in order to strengthen ties and to formulate joint ideas for projects related to connections. On all of our visits to Pittsburgh, the key phrases we heard from our hosts at the Federation revolved around “the Centennial Mega Mission” –the 100th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation.
Their dream was to bring a delegation of 250 Jews to Israel. The delegation would strengthen the community, the commitment toward giving back and the Federation’s important activity – and we were asked to help. It was decided that out of the 10 days in Israel, the delegation would spend two and a half days in the region. We realized that this would be an enormous opportunity for us – an opportunity to expand our circle of members active in the Partnership both here and there, and an opportunity to strengthen and deepen the connection.
The Adult Kesher sub-committee, headed by Yuval Kisus from Karmiel and Yiphat Ragoler from Yuvalim, together with the Partnership’s professional team, worked around the clock and succeeded in recruiting 70 families from Karmiel and Misgav to host the families from Pittsburgh.
There was matching based on age, children and fields of interest. Preliminary emails were sent for an initial introduction before the meeting. Many hours were dedicated to finalize the smallest details, in order for everything to go as planned. On Wednesday, June 20th, it all began.
The flights landed and the buses brought everyone to the Arbel Cliffs. 300 jetlagged Americans excited from all the buzz around them, and enchanted by the magnificent backdrop of the Kinneret and the Golan, raised their wine glasses and recited the ‘Shehecheyanu” blessing.
The excitement on both sides was enormous. That night on the lawn of Kibbutz Lavi, the host families from Karmiel and Misgav were waiting for them. The meeting was wonderful. There was immediate chemistry, like relatives who had gathered for a big family reunion. The meeting continued from the lawn to the pool, where the introductions continued into the night, with Israeli music and dancing in the background.
The next day was an amazing day that began at the region’s sites. The guests from Pittsburgh visited Tel Yodfat, the Galil Hand in Hand School, the Partnership Bike Trial, Kibbutz Eshbal, Kishorit, Tuval, and other sites that illustrated to them the different aspects of our lives here.
The Israeli escorts were supposed to join them on the buses, but there was a mix up with the number of buses and the Israelis were let off at the wrong spots. However, as you know, a problem is also an opportunity. The Americans who were looking forward to spending time with the Israeli families that they had met at Kibbutz Lavi expressed their disappointment and the Israelis did not give up. They improvised, found cars, and came to the right spots in order to reunite with their families. This once again illustrated the significance and importance of the connection that overcomes any problem or difficulty.
The day continued in Karmiel. Lunch was served for everyone in the events hall, there were greetings by the council heads and the Partnership chairs, and a film about the Partnership activities and workers was shown. After lunch, we made our way to the Karmiel Council Building and the family park, where a statue called “Apartment for Rent” (based on the Leah Goldberg story) was dedicated. The statue was funded by the Pittsburgh Jewish community and was dedicated to Karen Shapira who was the first Partnership chair in Pittsburgh.
Over 1,000 dancers, both teenagers and adults and of course the 300 guests from Pittsburgh, filled the street to do a flash mob. The misson participants had learned the dance steps before they flew to Israel. It was an empowering moment for everyone, with one thousand dancers waving their hands to the song “Let’s Say Shalom” – which was a particularly emotional and moving experience.
From here, we moved on to another moving event at the Galil Park and its natural amphitheater. The Karmiel and Misgav dance troupes performed, and there were more greetings. The most poignant moment of the day was when everyone joined together to sing Hatikva with Moran Samuel – an outstanding Paralympic athlete, who is a native Karmiel resident and the recipient of a gold medal at the international rowing competition in Italy. She sang Hatikva a cappella during the medal ceremony because the Italian competition organizers had not prepared a recording.
On Friday, we said goodbye to the mission, after another half-day of activity in the region, including cycling in the Segev Forest and a challenging activity on the Gamal Mountain. The 300 American Jews from Pittsburgh traveled to Jerusalem to spend Shabbat there, after we parted with hugs, kisses, tears and a lot of thanks and praise.
Thanks for the warm embrace they received, for the opportunity to really get to know Israel and Israelis in Karmiel and Misgav. Praise for the excellent and well-planned organization.
Yes, we Israelis, who know how to complain about how things here are almost on time and how things will be okay (b’seder), succeeded in organizing an amazing event that went off like clockwork. We particularly succeeded in leaving our mark in terms of the connection and partnership with 300 of our brothers and sisters from Pittsburgh.
It is our goal that this connection can and must act as leverage for many more joint activities and for expanding the circles of involvement. The real Zionism of the 2020s is less about bringing Diaspora Jews to Israel, and more about keeping them Jewish – the best way of doing that is a significant connection to Israel, and particularly with us – with the people. Didn’t we say - “It’s all about people” ?
And so, we really have done something in the past year-and-a-half and there is a lot more to do. Everyone involved in this project, including myself, is filled with a sense of pride and satisfaction, and it was worth all the effort and time we invested. We invite anyone who is interested to join us in our efforts.
Finally, I would like to thank all the volunteers from Misgav and Karmiel, the officials at the Misgav and Karmiel Councils, and anyone who was involved and who plans to become involved in this important and wonderful Zionist enterprise.
Ilan Meyer (Manof)
Misgav’s Co-Chair of the Karmiel-Misgav-Pittsburgh Partnership2Gether.
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The Jewish Chronicle
A message from Jeff Finkelstein, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
The Jewish Chronicle-By Justin Jacobs