After a year of aiding efforts in the aftermath of last year’s attack at the Tree of Life building, Meryl Ainsman, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, was honored by Peace Islands Institute and the Turkish Cultural Center of Pittsburgh. The Nov. 19 affair, which marked the groups’ 19th annual Friendship Dinner, welcomed more than 200 attendees, including Mayor Bill Peduto, to the Omni William Penn.
Ainsman’s work in organizing the Oct. 28, 2018, vigil at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, served as cause for recognition, explained Sebnem Unlu, an executive committee member of the Peace Islands Institute.
“Meryl has been working very hard to overcome anti-Semitism and hatred toward the Jewish community and I think it’s a very important thing she’s doing,” said Unlu.
Along with honoring Ainsman, the organization feted Wasi Mohammed, former director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh; Stephen Shelton, executive director of the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh; and Selma Aksoy, a representative from Advocates of Silenced Turkey.
Each of the awardees has gone “above and beyond in their communities,” said Unlu. “They have all stood up against hatred and they gave their hearts and put forward their abilities to overcome discrimination and to unify people.”
Ainsman, though surprised to receive the award, was excited to meet like-minded individuals seeking to better Pittsburgh and its residents.
“It is a great honor to be recognized outside the Jewish community for carrying out my responsibilities as Federation chair, particularly as it relates to the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life building,” she said. “I have made new friends in the Turkish community with whom I hope to continue to work together.”
“The time and energy Meryl has put into helping Jewish Pittsburgh over the past year has also built connections between the Jewish community and other diverse communities all over Pittsburgh, and I think this award recognizes the power of her volunteer work to heal all of us,” said Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing.
“Meryl has volunteered so much of her time as the Jewish Federation helps the Jewish community recover from the anti-Semitic attack last year, but this award really highlights the broader impact her volunteering has had on so many different, diverse communities throughout Pittsburgh,” echoed Jeff Finkelstein, Federation’s president and CEO.
The Peace Islands Institute was founded in 2003 by Turkish-Americans in New Jersey. The organization is inspired by Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in eastern Pennsylvania who last year sparked international attention after reports were issued that the White House was considering extraditing him to “placate Turkey,” and reduce tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to NBC News.
The Peace Islands Institute has long appreciated the efforts of individuals seeking to “overcome hatred, racism, persecution and the violation of human rights,” said Unlu. Recognition from the group is “a way of appreciating other people’s efforts irrespective of who they are, their faith, their religion or background. It’s a way of confirming our solidarity.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.