The power of relationships was on full display when the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Mega Mission visited Karmiel, Israel — part of Pittsburgh’s Parntership2Gether Region — as a stop on its eight-day tour of the Jewish state.
During Partnership Day on Tuesday, June 15, mission members volunteered at the city’s Volunteer Home, met new olim (immigrants) from Ukraine, visited the Pittsburgh Promenade and Karmiel Memorial to the victims of the Oct. 27, 2018 massacre, spent time at Ayalim, a student volunteer village, and visited at-risk youth at the Karmiel Children’s Village.
Founded in 1964, the Karmiel community has a population of approximately 55,000 and is surrounded by Arab villages in the neighboring hills.
Some mission members got a tour of the new Volunteer Home, which will soon be available for use by the 70 different area volunteer organizations.
Social worker Marganit Bysberling said the house won’t necessarily be used by every organization, as some already have established offices and workspaces; the important thing, she said, is that it’s available to be used.
“We wanted to give them their own space, a place that would make them proud,” she said.
The Volunteer Home was 20 years in the making, Bysberling said, explaining that without support locally and from Pittsburgh’s Federation, it would have remained a dream.
Karmiel resident Yosie Gal joined some of the Mega Mission’s participants while at the city’s Volunteer Home, planting flowers and creating paintings with welcoming messages for area nonprofits that will use the new center.
Gal’s wife, Idith Gal, is co-chair of the Parnterhsip2Gether program. His daughter spent time in Pittsburgh as part of the Diller Teens Fellow program and was a counselor at the Jewish Community Center’s Emma Kaufmann Camp.
“She’s very involved and has lots of friends from Pittsburgh,” he said.
The Partnership program is important for both communities because it helps build relationships, Gal added. Israel, he said, is a home for all Jews and it supports community members in the Diaspora.
“When Pittsburgh suffered on Oct. 27, the community supported them, and it goes both ways,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s one big happy family.”
The relationship between Mega Mission participant Lisa Dvorin’s family and first-year Israel Defense Force member Tomer Kadosh, is evidence of the positive things that can happen between the two communities.
Kadosh and his family live in Misgav (a region next to Karmiel that is part of the Pittsburgh-Israel partnership). In 2018, he stayed with Dvorin’s family when, like Gal’s daughter, he came to Pittsburgh as part of the Diller program; and Dvorin visited Kadosh and his family when she went to Israel with a group of women as part of Federation’s Momentum program.
On the Mega Mission, Dvorin and her daughter Zoe reconnected with Kadosh and his mother, Einat.
During their time in Karmiel, Einat told Dvorin that she and her family feel fortunate to have developed the relationship.
“She said, ‘Your family is very special.’ I said, ‘We feel the same way about you,’” Dvorin recounted.
Mega Mission co-chair Rochelle Wagner helped pass out identity cards to newly arrived Jewish Ukrainian refugees who came to Israel seeking to escape their country’s war with Russia. Federation collected summer beach needs from mission members before meeting the refugees. Wagner said it brought a smile to her face to watch the children move about the room from one object to the next, excited to choose an item.
“I felt a real sense of community,” Wagner said.
Partnership2gether forges critical connections between Pittsburghers and Israelis that help connect American Jews to Jewish life in Israel while helping Israel understand the Diaspora, according to Adam Hertzman, Federation’s marketing director.
“The personal relationships I saw blooming during this mission show how important visits like this can be,” he said. “I even got a little teary-eyed seeing the reunions and, for myself, meeting people who I have only seen online.”
During their time in the region, mission participants visited Karmiel’s memorial to Pittsburgh’s 11 victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life building. The memorial includes a plaque and 11 trees dedicated to those who were killed. The Pittsburgh contingent spoke at the site and said Kaddish.
“In the Talmud, we’re taught that when we save a life we save an entire world and when we take a life, we destroy an entire world. Let’s say Kaddish together as we think about those 11 worlds that were shattered on that day,” said Rabbi Amy Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills before leading the prayer.
More than 200 community members joined the Federation in Israel, the organization’s first Mega Mission since 2012. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.