KARMIEL, Israel — “Our roots are all from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” 17-year-old Ayal Rena said. “I think we should all know each other; we should share our knowledge. We’re all Jews, and the anti-Semitism still isn’t gone. We’re all bonded.”
He could barely stay seated. When Ayal began talking about passions of his — the Israeli Defense Forces, youth movements, teen leadership, his home in Karmiel and his home in Pittsburgh — his wide smile stretched and his words flooded out.
Ayal is a part of the Diller Teen Fellows, a widespread, but community specific program pairing teenagers from American cities and their Israeli sister cities together for leadership programming both in the United States and Israel. As part of the first class of fellows, Ayal has been connected to Pittsburgh youth through multiple trips, including a week here in March 2010, and a three-week summer seminar in Israel called the Diller Jewish Teen Fellows Congress, which included participants from 12 such city pairings.
“The thing about Diller that’s different than other programs that come to Israel is that those are like ‘come to Israel, see Israel, blah blah blah,’ ” said fellow Shoval Moshon. “But we get to know the communities here and in Pittsburgh, and we all give back to them.”
While the Diller Teen Fellows Program is certainly unique, it shares one factor with a large, and growing portion of programming between Pittsburgh, the city of Karmiel and the region of Misgav: it’s aimed at youth.
The Counselor in Training program of Emma Kaufmann Camp, which includes an Israel trip, spends time in Karmiel (Birthright trips leaving out of Pittsburgh regularly stop in the region), and most recently, J’Burgh, Hillel Jewish University Center’s young professional organization, led an Israel trip that included a week spent in Karmiel and featuring programming to bond the Pittsburgh participants with peers from the region in Israel.
The overwhelming answer is that, whether they can financially contribute to the partnership or not now, young Jews are seeds for the future.
“We see how [young people] can build relationships,” said Lilach Voxman Rena, chair of the youth subcommittee of Partnership 2000 (P2K) in Karmiel (and Ayal’s mother). “To continue the Jewish culture for the next and next and next generations, we need to build a young leadership to feel safe that we will continue.”
Partnership 2000 is a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Beth Goldstein was among the Pittsburgh young Jewish leaders chosen for the inaugural J’Burgh trip, which concluded this week.
“You can look at our group and see it. We’re past BBYO presidents and EKC color war captains. Leadership starts in those positions, but you think broader as you get older,” she said on a tour bus as the group headed to Jerusalem late last week. “So to introduce P2K at that time, our ideas are there and it doesn’t seem so far fetched to be a part of a movement.”
J’Burgh Director David Katz shaped and led the trip, splitting time between touring the sites of Karmiel and Misgav and getting deeper into the region’s culture through people-to-people programming.
What does that mean exactly? Simply hanging out. Each J’Burgh group member stayed at a Karmiel or Misgav family’s house with an Israeli peer in similar life situations — just like the J’Burghers, they were students, young professionals and burgeoning entrepreneurs struggling with the idea of how to be the next leaders in their communities.
And it was a struggle. In a meeting between participants and staff members of both Partnership 2000 and the Jewish Agency for Israel toward the end of the trip, young professionals raised an important issue: the youth may have the energy and motivation, but they don’t have the funds or know-how to push the relationship forward, suggesting that a multigenerational relationship is important along with a multicommunity one.
“We were not kids being sent on this trip by our parents,” said Goldstein. “We actively want to be here. That made the difference for me. It doesn’t end with this trip. This trip is the beginning. This is where it starts.”
Though years younger, the Diller Teen Fellows shared the sentiments.
“I want to be someone who makes a difference,” said Ayal. “I want to be someone who has an influence. I want to make a change.”
On the short-term level, however, the youth programming arm of the partnership has simply opened up lines of communication between groups that want to talk — and be friends.
“Whenever someone comes to Karmiel and Misgav from Pittsburgh now, it’s like, ‘here’s your room, here’s your bed,’” said Shoval. “Now come over for dinner.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)