Adina Rosen recently returned from Israel with new friends, a cadre of leadership skills and an appreciation for public dissent.
Having spent three weeks in the Jewish state, and an academic year preparing for the experience, Rosen, 16, is eager to share what she learned.
Serving as a Diller Teen Fellow, she said, gave her firsthand insights into contemporary Israeli life.
Even before spending much of July touring Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Karmiel-Misgav (Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region), Rosen spent a lot of time with Israeli peers. During a week in January, she and 17 fellow Diller participants collaborated with Israeli teens visiting Pittsburgh.
Through a program called Mifgash, the American and Israeli teens worked on “problem solving, listening, leadership skills and interpersonal skills,” Rachael Speck, the JCC’s Youth and Family Division director, said. “The teens also did a lot of Jewish learning where they explored societal issues in their communities.”
By showcasing Pittsburgh, Rosen and her fellow Pittsburghers conveyed what life is like here.
The Israeli teens returned the favor months later, but one of the biggest takeaways — apart from observing Tel Aviv’s graffiti murals and Jerusalem’s Western Wall — was the manner in which Israeli citizens publicly expressed their disapproval of the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, Rosen explained.
On the day the Pittsburghers landed, thousands of protesters overtook Israeli streets, including outside Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“Our bus driver had to get out and direct traffic,” Rosen said.
Days later, she saw another protest outside her hotel.
The Diller Fellows discussed the demonstrations, Rosen said, and “talked about the similarities and differences between these protests and the ones we saw in Pittsburgh after George Floyd.”
One of the major differences, she said, was the prominence of flags.
“There were a lot more national symbols in Israel,” she said.
Rebecca Kahn, Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows coordinator, said that at every juncture of the three-week July program, participants engaged in direct and meaningful conversation.
“That’s really a core tenant of the program,” she said. “Everything requires that introspection, whether internally or externally, as part of the group.”
Being able to reflect on an experience is a critical tool for the participants — and can have an impact on those whose lives they touch, Speck explained.
“Our Jewish community reaps the benefits of this program long after the program ends,” she said. “Diller Teen fellows have gone on to be young leaders in their youth groups, schools, summer camps and elsewhere. The program gives so many teens a connection to our local and international Jewish community and foundational leadership skills that benefit them well into adulthood.”
Watching that growth occur, even over the course of a year, is part of the joy of leading an educational program, Kahn said. Not only did quiet teens become vocal leaders, but many of the participants realized that “Jewish learning and engaging in Jewish spaces can be fun.”
It’s a truism but the “younger generation does have the power to save the world,” Kahn said.
“Whether it is moving a small rock or a big ripple, they have these skills within them.”
So much of what transpired throughout this year was learning how to develop and refine these skills. The hope, Kahn continued, is that the experience, which is supported by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, enables participants to “really make a difference in their community, in this community, and beyond.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.