Dan Friedman entered the movie theater. Before the film began, he received an instruction: “If the siren blares, you have 15 seconds to enter the bomb shelter.” The film started. The siren never sounded. But what Friedman heard resonated.
For 90 minutes, he was captivated by “Rock in the Red Zone,” an Israeli documentary about regional rock music and war. After the movie ended, the director spoke to those gathered. Friedman exited the Israeli theater. He ventured out into Sderot, a town that has received incessant rocket fire from the neighboring Gaza Strip for years. Friedman boarded a vehicle and headed uphill. At the summit, he heard construction, voices and music emanating from Gaza, a half-mile in the distance. There, at the peak, Friedman reflected upon the film and recognized the rockiest of juxtapositions.
“That was the most impactful part of the trip,” he later acknowledged.
Friedman traveled to Israel as one of eight national fellows. His cohort was the second to participate in the annual Frank Family Leadership Institute; inspired by Lois and Larry Frank, the program aims to “identify emerging local leadership to prepare them to lead their” Jewish community relations councils and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs.
Friedman learned of the opportunity last spring from Gregg Roman, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council. Friedman, a CRC member, had increased his involvement over the past 18 months, including as a delegate on a trip to Washington, D.C.
After considering Roman’s offer, Friedman filled out the necessary paperwork and submitted an essay. Across the country, local JCRCs had all nominated members for participation.
Months after being picked, Friedman and the other fellows began their trip. Over nine days, the group toured Poland and Israel. They visited Krakow, walking through the Jewish ghetto and the Remuh Synagogue; they also saw Oskar Schindler’s factory and toured Auschwitz and Birkenau.
From there, they traveled to Israel and joined the national JCPA Leadership Mission, which Friedman described as focusing on “modern challenges facing Israel.”
In Israel, the cohort met with the editor of Ha’aretz and visited the Foreign Ministry, Peres Center for Peace and the Knesset. They were on hand for the government’s final day before the upcoming March elections.
But apart from meeting with politicians and community leaders, they visited a Hand in Hand school consisting of ethnically diverse students representing Arab Christian, Muslim, Armenian Christian, Jewish secular and Jewish traditional families. The fellows also met with young Palestinian leaders working on developing relationships between Palestinians and Jews.
The tour encouraged participants to “hear from Israelis and bring their mission home,” said Friedman. “Also, to let [Israelis] know what’s going on in the U.S., and America’s perspective on Israel.”
CRC chairman Skip Grinberg called the trip a “high-level program.” He hopes that Friedman will remain inspired by the experience.
“Get them involved in the local community and get them involved on a national level and in Israel advocacy,” Grinberg said of the trip’s goals.
Friedman seems to be doing just that. He recently joined AIPAC and plans on attending its upcoming conference. He said that he will continue his “involvement with CRC and continue lobbying with CRC.” And in terms of returning to Israel, Friedman stated, “If an opportunity presented itself to go to Israel with local elected officials, I would definitely do that.”
While Friedman has identified future plans, one thing remains supreme.
“Bringing that documentary to Pittsburgh is the top of my list,” he said.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.