Community gets together

Community gets together

Lotem Touaf, 6, of Mt. Lebanon shows off an Israel-shaped cookie he decorated at the South Hills celebration. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Lotem Touaf, 6, of Mt. Lebanon shows off an Israel-shaped cookie he decorated at the South Hills celebration. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

Pittsburghers were offered both a taste of Israeli culture and a robust sense of community last week as they joined together at two separate Yom Ha’atzmaut events in grand celebration of the 67th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state.

The first celebration, held last Thursday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill and sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, included an emphasis on youth travel to Israel, with Palm Court boasting representatives from a host of groups pitching their summer teen trips, alongside a table tendering information on scholarships and funding to help make those trips more affordable.

For the even younger crowd, the Kaufmann Gym was filled with a bounce house, an obstacle course, face painting and balloon twisting. Community organizations, also set up in the gym, gave the kids’ parents a chance to discover ways to become involved — or more involved — in Jewish Pittsburgh.

Modern Jewish rocker Rick Recht and other musicians filled half of Levinson Hall with music, while the rest of the hall was converted to a dining area where attendees could buy food from local kosher vendors Milky Way and Grilliance.

In collaboration with JFilm — which was running concurrently — the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration included the viewing of “Beneath the Helmut” at the Manor Theatre, preceded by a happy hour for members of the Federation’s Young Adult Division, Shalom Pittsburgh and J’Burgh.

New this year to the festivities was a wine tasting and a chocolate sampling. The wine was from Kishor Vineyards, located at Kishorit, a special needs residential community for adults. Founded in 1997 on the site of Kibbutz Kishor, its members are able to choose from a variety of work options, including cheese making, baking or employment in the vineyard and winery, according to Sue Linzer, senior manager of overseas operations at Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Their first grape harvest was in 2010, and they now produce more than 35,000 bottles of wine a year. That wine is now available in the United States.

The chocolate being sampled was from Chocolad M’hagalil, a small business located at Kibbutz Moran, near Karmiel, Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether sister city. The business was able to launch thanks to help from the Jewish Agency Loan Fund.

The evening was rounded out by festive Israeli dancing led by Lynn Berman and friendly falafel and pita mascots strolling among the crowd for photo ops.

The celebration continued at the South Hills JCC on Sunday.

“This is the first time in about six years that we’ve had our own celebration,” said Rob Goodman, director of the Federation’s South Hills Community Engagement Initiative.

Goodman said he was pleased with the turnout and predicted that the enthusiasm for community shown at the event “is something we can build on.”

The day’s activities included a petting zoo, a bounce house, Israeli dancing with Berman, a balloon artist, face painting and cookie decorating with PJ Library.

It is essential to come together as a community in celebration of Israel, noted nationally acclaimed musician Sheldon Low,  who performed two packed sets at the event, in an interview.

“Now, more than ever, I think it’s important we get together as a Jewish community to celebrate, and specifically to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, because we’ve got a lot to be proud of, with all the amazing things Israel has to offer in terms of culture, technology, community and, of course, music,” Low said. “We need to shout it from the rooftops.”

The South Hills Community Engagement Initiative sponsored the Sunday Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration in collaboration with the JCC, Beth El Congregation, Beth Israel Center, Chabad of the South Hills, the Carnegie Shul, Temple Emanuel and the PJ Library.  

The Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations followed a commemoration of Yom HaZikaron — a memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror — held on Tuesday, April 21 at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

Poetry and music provided by teen choir HaZamir helped set the tone for the evening.

Gregg Roman, director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, shared a personal story of a man with whom he grew up in Philadelphia who volunteered as a Lone Soldier, then died in combat. Several local relatives of fallen soldiers participated in a candle-lighting ceremony in their memory.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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