Volunteer Center Mission fosters Israeli connections through ‘kitchen table’ experience

Volunteer Center Mission fosters Israeli connections through ‘kitchen table’ experience

Amy Cohen and five community members recently traveled to the Israeli city of Karmiel and the Misgav region for the third annual Volunteer Center Mission to Israel. Cohen, manager of the Jewish Volunteer Center, explained that the trip’s purpose was to provide participants a volunteer experience in Pittsburgh’s partnership region.

“Since Pittsburgh has the partnership region, [the trip allows] members of the Pittsburgh community to give back not only in Pittsburgh, but in the region as well.”

Between April 12 and 19, Cohen and the other Pittsburghers volunteered throughout Karmiel and the Misgav region by gardening at a kibbutz, working with members of the special-needs community and packaging items for soldiers.  

While Cohen detailed the merits of each activity, perhaps the largest takeaway was housing.

“Since we have Partnership2Gether, the partnership peer in Israel was able to find host homes, so [participants] will have a complete Israeli experience for the week.”  

Partnership2Gether is a sister-city partnership between the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Karmiel and the Misgav region. The program is coordinated locally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and supported by the Federation’s Annual Campaign.   

Cindy Goodman-Leib, co-chair of Partnership2Gether, explained that home hospitality is central to Partnership2Gether programs.

“People get to experience Israel and Israelis at a kitchen table. You’re not on a bus looking out a window; you get to engage meaningfully with people.”

The group was hosted by local families. “We have had the fun of being welcomed into  that long line of Pittsburghers who have found a home in Misgav,” said participant Rabbi Stephen Steindel.

During the day, participants on the Volunteer Center Mission connected with both locals and the region through various endeavors, including repainting equipment and creating new walkways at the Karmiel Petting Zoo, planting and weeding at Kishorit, a community in the Galilean hills dedicated to serving Israelis with special needs, community building in a primarily immigrant neighborhood and working with Krembo Wings, an Israeli youth movement for children and young adults with special needs.    

For participants, most days concluded around 7 p.m., and evenings were spent in the company of the host family. Cohen noted that the opportunity for participants and hosts to further engage occurred on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when participants accompanied their hosts to local Holocaust remembrance programs.  

She added that at week’s end participants were invited to remain in the region and spend Shabbat with their host families.  

“With every partnership program, people are hosted in people’s homes,” said Goodman-Leib.  “Many times, people say that’s the best part of their experience.”

By facilitating positive personal experiences, the Volunteer Center and Partnership2Gether are hoping to increase the number of future participants. Matt Cohen, Volunteer Center program associate, claimed that as many as 20 people could participate in an upcoming Mission.  

“The biggest limiting factor is the timing of the trip,” he said. “Getting away for a week in April is difficult.”  

Despite the timing of the Mission, by largely subsidizing the trip and offering engaging opportunities, the Volunteer Center and Partnership2Gether are aiming toward a particular objective.  

“Our goal is to get as many people to the region as possible,” said Cohen.

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewishchronicle.net.

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