Shahak Avshalom admitted that he did not know that much about Pittsburgh.
“I knew about the steel industry and the sports teams,” said the teenager.
But the Israeli native learned a lot more about the city during a recent visit as part of the Diller Teens Fellow Program.
The international program encourages teens to find their identity and be active in the Jewish community by bringing them to America from Israel and vice versa.
The 15-month initiative — which is funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh through Partnership2Gether — accomplishes this by promoting workshops that focus on leadership, tikkun olam, Judaism and Jewish identity, and Israel, according to Pittsburgh coordinator Chris Herman.
Partnering agencies in the project are the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Agency for Jewish Learning.
This was the fifth year that Pittsburgh and its partner location, Karmiel-Misgav, have been a part of the event.
This year, 20 Israeli students and two junior counselors came stateside for an 11-day trip, which concluded on April 13; the last seven days were spent in Pittsburgh.
This summer, 18 American students and a pair of junior counselors will journey to Israel.
For Avshalom, the trip to the States was not intimidating, but he still had concerns.
“I wasn’t nervous about coming,” he said. “I was nervous about meeting the American teens.”
According to Gabe Weiner, Avshalom’s student counterpart, a long ride to Washington, D.C., broke the ice.
“The bus ride there was interesting because it was the first time we had spent time together,” the Quaker Valley sophomore said. “I felt like I knew them even though I [had been with] them for less than a day.”
Junior Allie Shepard of Pine-Richland called the trip a bonding experience.
“It was really cool because [Washington] was a new city for all of us,” she said.
After arriving in Pittsburgh, the group went to the Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, W.Va., followed by the trip to the nation’s capital. The schedule for the teens included a dozen four-hour workshops, trips to the Waterfront and Science Center, tours of the Cathedral of Learning and Pittsburgh’s synagogues and a dinner with local rabbis and leaders.
They also took part in a welcoming dinner at the Squirrel Hill JCC hosted by Barry Sheppard.
Shira Ganelevin, from Karmiel-Misgav, said she is looking forward to showing her new friends her country whenever they come to visit.
“After four days, I feel like I know these people. I love you guys,” she said of her new friends.
(Alex Stumpf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)