Pittsburgh ponies up $150K for Israeli wilderness youth group

Pittsburgh ponies up $150K for Israeli wilderness youth group

Green Horizons teaches Jewish youth skills for the Israeli wilderness as well as for life. (JNF photo)
Green Horizons teaches Jewish youth skills for the Israeli wilderness as well as for life. (JNF photo)

Pittsburghers raised $150,000 this year to support an Israeli program that takes Jewish youth back to nature and gives them a sense of ownership in their country.

The fundraising for the program, known in English as Green Horizons, culminated Wednesday, Sept. 5, with the Jewish National Fund’s annual Tree of Life dinner at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. JNF is one of Green Horizons’ primary supporters.

Uzi Dayan, lay chair of Green Horizons, was the guest speaker for the event, which was attended by dozens of dignitaries in the Jewish and greater Pittsburgh communities.

Among those present were Rabbi James Gibson, Temple Sinai; Karen Wolk Feinstein, Jewish Healthcare Foundation; Ira Frank, Beth Shalom and ZOA; Stuart Pavilack, ZOA; Adrienne Indianer, State of Israel Bonds; Stanley Cohen, B’nai B’rith; and Sy Holzer, PNC Bank.

Former Allegheny County Executive James Roddey acted as master of ceremonies, and David J. Malone of Gateway Financial was this year’s honoree.

All told, JNF nationally has raised $2.8 million for Green Horizons.

“We are so proud of our partnership with this amazing youth movement, which recently has also developed programs and activities for at-risk youth in disadvantaged communities throughout Israel,” said Sharon Freedman, JNF national campaign director. “These kids would not be able to participate without our help. 

Under Green Horizons, Jewish youth from Jerusalem, Ofakim, Be’er Sheva, Beit Shean, Nazareth Illit, Akko and Naharia learn self-confidence and leadership skills; deepen their connection to their country, the environment and themselves.

With these values in mind, the program’s goal is to encourage its alumni to become “concerned and responsible citizens,” Freedman said.

Dayan, a major general (res.) in the Israel Defense Forces and a former deputy chief of staff, told the Chronicle he joined Green Horizons, which has produced more than 20,000 alumni over 37 years, because of its emphasis on education.

“The idea was to make everyone understand that education is not less important than security … because education everywhere, and especially in Israel, is the basis for everything. If you want a good economy to grow, the society, it’s based on education.”

He said education closes socio-economic gaps in society and represents the best opportunity available for young people to achieve.  

“The only thing you can give [to young people] that’s an equal opportunity is a good education,” Dayan said, “then it’s up to them.”

He said Green Horizons doesn’t accept children who aren’t doing well in school. Those who are accepted are taught skills they can use in the wilderness as well as life: astronomy, map reading, botany, geology, history and topography to name a few.

“Every week there is an activity, and every month there is a trip [a two-day hike],” Dayan said. “They start around their neighborhood then go further and further to get to know the country and people.

“We connect them with life in Israel, the land of Israel and the people of Israel,” he added.

Students are divided into small groups of 10-15 that remain together over the years. Each group is led by one or two guides; the guiding staff consists of youth counselors who have completed a leadership program, high school graduates who have deferred army enlistment for a year of national volunteer service, and university students.

The annual cost for participation in Green Horizons is $1,000 per student, Freedman said. The cost is high because activities take place in small groups with highly trained guides, and because of the medical and security arrangements needed for field trips.

Green Horizons also offers scholarships so children from low-income households can benefit from the program as well.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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