The Jewish peoplehood project continued at a South Side office park. About 15 members of Partnership2Gether’s steering committee met inside the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s office on June 21 to discuss joint programming in Pittsburgh, Karmiel/Misgav, Israel and Warsaw, Poland.
Despite geographic and cultural divides, the three regions are bound, Warsaw resident Uri Wollner said. He praised an inclusive partnership that focuses “on growth and strength through personal connections.”
Nearly 30 years ago, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh recognized that goal when entering into a pact with Karmiel/Misgav through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether Peoplehood Platform. The commitment was reaffirmed in 2019 when Warsaw was added to the group, Federation staffer Debbie Swartz explained.
Whether by engaging in shared digital programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, or visiting each other’s cities when it was safe to do so, the partnership has allowed participants to “learn from each other’s culture and build bonds,” Wollner said.
“The mission of Partnership2Gether is to broaden the Jewish identities of our communities with Israel at its heart,” said Pittsburgher Vicki Holthaus. “Broaden is somewhat of an unclear word, [and] it lends itself to all kinds of ideas, but it’s about people to people connection.”
Pittsburgher Elizabeth Gordon Coslov said her family has been connected to the project for two decades.
“I remember my dad did his first homestay 20 years ago, and now I have people who stay with me,” she told the Chronicle. “Forming decades of relationships with people from these three communities really does give you the home away from home.”
Creating personal bonds across the Jewish world is at the heart of the endeavor, Holthaus said: “We have formed a family of people here that care about each other, care about each other’s communities.”
“The fact that you know that there is another community that cares about you, it touched us when the Second Lebanon War happened in Israel,” Israeli resident Lilach Rana said.
The first phone call received was from the Federation and it was like “hearing from family,” she continued. “It was over the ocean but you could feel the love and support.”
Following the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the sentiment was reciprocated.
Elected officials offered help, but not just in the form of material aid, Rana said.
“The trauma was so strong” that in addition to sending letters written by children, “we did a ceremony in Karmiel because we felt that this is a part of us. Something happened to us — it was not only here in Pittsburgh, it affected us,” she said.
Swartz told the Chronicle about the vital role the partnership played in the weeks and months after the 2018 shooting.
“We received hundreds, probably thousands of videos, letters, pictures and emails,” she said. “I printed them out, and put them up all over the office, and I shared them with people. It really buoyed us. We could feel it.”
Visiting members of the steering committee spent June 19-22 discussing future projects and meeting representatives of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Along with touring several local synagogues, steering committee members visited the Tree of Life building.
Wollner said the group entered the space and recited the El Malei Rachamim prayer in memory of the 11 people murdered there 4½ years ago.
The partnership’s benefit isn’t restricted to offering comfort during tragedy, however, he continued: “Everyone is here to learn what we can do with each other’s support.”
Shortly before breaking for lunch on June 21, partnership members discussed utilizing camps for educational purposes. Two members of the cohort said they were headed to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh later that day to meet staff and observe activities.
For many members of the group, the concern is “what can we do with the next generation,” Wollner said. “The way things are today it’s hard to say why does Israel need to exist, why does a small Jewish community in Warsaw need to exist or why be Jewish in America. And we’re not here thinking about tomorrow, but tomorrow’s tomorrow.”
Idith Gal, partnership co-chair in Karmiel, told the Chronicle, “We have a mutual responsibility between all of the Jews in the world. I don’t know if it’s one big family but we are for sure the same nation, and we feel that we have to be together in happiness and sadness. That’s why I’m here because I want to make this happen.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.