Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sixth Day of JCM

On the Sixth day of the Pittsburgh/Karmiel-Misgav Jewish Community Mifgash, I arrived at the JCC at around four in the afternoon. Jason (Hertzberg) was asleep in the backseat of the car, and, upon entry to the upstairs level where our Diller cohorts were working, I could tell that everyone, myself included, was exhausted. 

As the day went on, everyone got pretty excited and loud, even though we had a ton of work to do. Our first order of business was to work on defining a vision for what our two cohorts wanted to achieve, in terms of learning and gaining from each other. So, we divided into groups of four that we had determined the day before, and set off working on, and editing a vision for each group. Due to how tired I was, I couldn’t tell you how long it took to define a single vision, but I can tell you that everyone’s voice was heard. 

After what felt like an hour, we finally moved on to determining the theme, and focus of each day of the Pittsburgh/Karmiel-Misgav Israel Summer Seminar. For the next hour, our groups threw out various ideas for themes for each of the days, and what we wanted to focus on. We came up with various ideas like “Israeli Defense Force,” “Nature,” and “Politics.” All of these ideas seemed really very interesting, and I found myself and the room suddenly buzzing with energy again. I signed up to take the lead on organizing “Nature” day, and soon enough everyone had signed up for a day. Friday was really fun, and I had a lot of fun working with both cohorts.

- Eli Izenson

JCM Rabbi Forum

Today the Americans and Israelis joined together for a program about the different sects of Judaism in America. Four different rabbis from around the community joined together to talk with the group about the beliefs of their respective sects. These rabbis were Rabbi Yalkut from Congregation Poale Zedeck, Rabbi Adelson from Beth Shalom, Rabbi Dyen from Dor Chadash, and Rabbi Gorban from Temple Sinai. 

The teens were encouraged to write down a question on a notecard that they wanted to be answered by all four rabbis by the end of the program. The teens split into 4 different groups and had a chance to talk with each rabbi for about 15 minutes. Although this was a short time, all the teens were able to ask their questions and learn a little bit more about Judaism in America. 

After the rabbis met with all the teens we gathered together for a final Q&A where the four rabbis answered a question about pluralism in America. Finally we gave the amazing speakers a whoosh and thanked them for their time. Overall I think that everybody learned something from this experience of meeting new people even if some were uncomfortable with the views of some of the rabbis. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sunday of JCM and closing ceremonies

We arrived at the JCC early Sunday morning and spent some time with our respective cohorts discussing what we had done over the weekend. Afterwards, we split up into two volunteer groups, with some people going to Habitat for Humanity and others going to Weinberg Terraces. 

Then we met back up at the JCC for lunch, along with J­Serve students, EKC CITS, and others, and split up into four groups to do some type of art project (either a quilt, mural painting, plastic bag sculpture, or mosaic). 

We then signed personalized t­shirts and tie­dyed them as our closing program for both the American and Israeli cohorts. After that, we had a little free time to hang out before the closing ceremony, which included dinner and some activities to say goodbye to the Israelis.

I thought this program was a great way to end our amazing week together. We spent the morning volunteering, which is an important component of the Diller program, and I thought that it was a very valuable experience. Helping creating lasting art projects that will symbolize our connection between Pittsburgh and Karmiel­Misgav was a great idea, and so were the t­shirts. The closing ceremony really built on the theme of bridging the gap between our two groups, and I thought it was the perfect way to say goodbye. 

----Rebecca Avigad

April 16 - Shabbat and free day

Saturday was one of the free days we had because it was Shabbat. Adva, who is staying with me, and I had had a late night because we went to Someones house for Shabbat, so we slept in, which was incredible. We started packing her up that morning, and had quite the heart-to-heart, talking about how much we were going to miss each other. After, we went to the mall, met some other fellows, and did a little shopping. Then, we went to the Pens game. It was interesting to see how the Israelis we were with reacted to sports games and atmospheres they don't have at home. Adva was so excited the entire time. Even though it wasn't her home team, she was cheering the loudest in our section. Then we went home, and had half the cohort over for dinner. We started on the trampoline, moved to the hover board, and finally transitioned to the back yard. In the backyard, we quickly started a game of homerun derby wiffle ball, and Jordan Taxay broke half of them. After playing wiffle ball and volleyball (with a soccer ball), we played a very interesting game of Cards Against Humanity. I think the funniest part of that was explaining them what the cards meant, and hearing Omer say 'Funky Fresh Rhymes.' We are dinner, which consisted of burgers and kosher hot dogs, and took a dip in the hot tub. We then met everyone at Laser Storm. We played 3 games, the first one just split in half, the second one Americans vs.  Israelis, and the third one girls vs. boys. After scaring the workers there with random cheers oh 'USA' and 'I believe', we went our separate ways. As our experience comes to an end, I'm starting to get sad as they start to pack up and prepare to leave. I never thought I would get as attached as I am, and I'm going to miss all of them so much when they go home. 

---Jordan Ennis

April 13, Hillel JUC

Yesterday marked a new first in the 2015-2016 Pittsburgh and Karmiel-Misgav Partnership history. Our first day of planning Community Week in Israel. Oy vey.

I stumbled into the third floor workshop in the Hillel JUC, panting and sweating from my trek up the stairs, approximately ten minutes late to our second joint program, I was greeted with a surprise that made me freeze in place. Literally, I couldn’t move, because Omer tackled me with one of many bear-hugs to come and let loose with a battle cry:


If that’s not the most touching, meaningful, slightly terrifying way to start off your second day of joint Pittsburgh-Israeli planning, I don’t know what is.

Turns out our cohorts like to talk. A lot. Who knew? There was much hugging and laughing and dancing and poking and tickling and cookie-eating. The usual for us. Omer surprised us all again by screaming something about Donald Trump and promptly disappearing down the stairs. We still don’t know where he went.**

But despite our boisterousness, with much prompting from Chris, Nir, and the JC’s, we eventually settled and got down to business. We spent two and a half hours painstakingly developing our mission and vision statements for our Community Week together in Israel. In the end, we came through with two powerful statements, focusing on the unbreakable inter-cohort bonds we’re striving to form, the leadership skills we hope to help each other develop, and the positive impact we hope to have on our communities. We came together to define why and how we want to grow and learn together in the Jewish homeland. What we hope to accomplish together, and why this surreal week in July will be so powerful for us.  

From the bear-hugs in the entranceway, to the Hebrew name scrawled across my hand by Chen, to the posters bearing our statements of Affirmation and Purpose we stuck to the wall with sticky-notes, yesterday’s meeting was about togetherness. For the first time, Community Week in Israel became real: alive with the beating of fifty Jewish hearts brought united across an ocean. Alive with us.

- Emily Csonka

Thursday of JCM

Today we met at the JCC to continue planning Community Week, the week we will spend with the Karmiel/Misgav cohort this summer. We are in charge of creating all of the activities and experiences for that week as well as the daily themes. We spent the workshop today brainstorming ideas for different themes and eventually voting on the seven themes that we will integrate into our Israel experience. We then split into committees for each theme to begin discussing our goals for the week and what we want to get out of it.

It is very hard to believe that in just a few short months our plans for Community Week will become a reality. One thing about JCM that amazes me is how close the two cohorts have grown in only one week. We feel comfortable sharing our opinions with each other and it is such a cool feeling to know that everything we are deciding on now are things that we will be able to experience ourselves. Everything that we are planning this week we are planning for each other, and that gives me a deeper appreciation for the work and effort we are putting into this week. JCM is going by very fast, and I want to cherish every moment I have to spend with the Karmiel/Misgav teens who feel like family.

-Naomi Frim-Abrams


The day kicked off with an abrupt wake up at 5:00 A.M.  From there, we all stumbled outside into the cold and onto the bus, excited, but too tired to express it.  What followed was our first experience as Americans and Israelis together, stuck in a space that we couldn’t leave.  Fortunately, all went well, and we arrived ahead of schedule to the JCC in Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C.

Prior to our experience hearing from those who previously experienced homelessness, we played a fun but incredibly difficult game that ended with David hitting a pretty sick dab.  After that, we had the opportunity to listen to incredibly insightful and inspiring stories from Steve and Candi, two people who had previously experienced homelessness.  In my opinion, this was the greatest experience of the day.  I think everyone in the room was very touched and inspired by their stories, and additionally open-minded to being exposed to the insight that these people had to offer.  Personally, I was incredibly awed by the quick turn of events that could lead to someone becoming homeless.  Steve’s experiences made me feel extremely fortunate and appreciative of all that I have, and all of those around me that care for me.  

Following that, everyone got on the bus and we proceeded to head to Washington D.C.  Once we arrived, we all got into groups of 7 and headed out to lunch.  My group, led by Nir, walked around the city for about 20 minutes with no end goal in mind, winding up in the same place we had previously passed 2 or 3 times.  Some of us got pizza while others got sandwiches, but I think we all had a pretty nice lunch experience.  After lunch, we were supposed to attempt to speak with people who are currently experiencing homelessness.  At lunch, we discussed a lot as a group about what to do in this situation, including how to identify a homeless person, what to say to them, and how to carry ourselves as to not seem demeaning.  However, when we tried to put our ideas into practice, the extent of our experience was one man simply walking away from a group of 3 people approaching him.  So, while our group didn’t have a great change to speak to someone currently experiencing homelessness, others did, and we additionally had a very beneficial discussion during lunch regarding various aspects of this situation.  

By this point, we had made our way to the White House.  Unfortunately, most of the Israelis that I spoke to were incredibly underwhelmed by the size and lack of majestic features on the White House, and I heard many times that people were disappointed by the White House.  However, from the Israelis that I spoke to, everyone said that Washington D.C. was very beautiful, especially as the weather got a little warmer.  Next, we walked through the National Mall, grouped together, where 1 group of 4 consisted of two housing pairs for the JCM.  We participated in an activity where we took various pictures in front of the different monuments, attempting to represent in the picture the symbolic importance of certain monuments and memorials.  Throughout this activity, we also talked about the importance of the presence of these memorials, as well as details about division of our countries from within as we approached the Lincoln Memorial.  We saw the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and I think everybody really enjoyed both learning about these monuments as well as walking through the beautiful National Mall.  Following this, we had a brief discussion about how the ideologies of people within a nation don’t always reflect the ideologies that that nation was founded upon.  I found this discussion very interesting and applicable to modern day.  

Next, we got back on the bus and headed to dinner at a kosher restaurant near our hotel.  After a nice meal, we arrived at the hotel, and got to our rooms.  Then, we split up for the Ma’agal.  I found that for the Americans this was a great experience for everyone, ending the day very nicely.  Overall, I think everyone went to bed tired, but with new knowledge, insight, inspiration, and connections with those around them.

- Jordan Taxay

Our last day in DC was both meaningful and educational. After breakfast we headed to my favorite museum in DC-- The National Museum of American History. I had been there before, but touring the museum with my Israeli friends provided an entirely different experience. As a current student of European History, I thought I had a strong grasp on how to contextualize major historical events such as World War II and the Revolutionary War. Yet walking through these exhibits with Noam and Erika we discussed how American and European histories are so different from Middle Eastern history.  

After our wrap up we headed to the JCC for opening ceremonies. It got me so excited for the whole week; we have such a great group and so many experiences to anticipate. Afterwards, we brought Noam home. My family thought she was adorable (true) and she was so gracious for our accommodations. In all, today was another fun day with the Pittsburgh and Karmiel cohorts!!

- Jennifer Jaffe

Monday, April 11, 2016

Beginning Experience with the Karmiel-Misgav Teens

Beginning Experience with the Karmiel-Misgav Teens

For our Shabbaton with the visiting Karmiel-Misgav teens, we spent Friday afternoon through Saturday evening at Emma Kaufman Camp (EKC), a well-known Jewish children / teen summer camp. Our Shabbat experience was jam packed with activities, learning sessions and games, among meeting the Israelis in person for the first time.

We began Friday afternoon into evening with introduction activities, getting situated in our individual rooms, and beginning our Shabbat experience as a joint cohort. We have a brief prayer service with tunes that some recognized, and some didn’t, but we made the most of it and enjoyed ourselves until dinner. From the moment we stepped off the bus and headed to the cabin, the Karmiel-Misgav teens immediately came outside to greet us, hug and introduce themselves, and some even recognized each other (from social media). At first I will say the meeting of so many new people, and suddenly including 20 teens and more people we don’t know well into our Shabbat experience, was interesting. But, what I was thankful about was how extremely open, kind, and positive the visiting Israeli teens were to us both at first, and throughout the entire Shabbat and beyond that. There wasn’t a time where I didn’t feel like we were getting along, except at first when we just didn’t know what to say to introduce ourselves.

Saturday morning included Shabbat morning activities, such as yoga and a “God talk”, which was the activity I participated in. Throughout Shabbat the Israelis and Pittsburghers were split evenly, to maximize the time for us to get to know each other. During discussions like the “God talk”, where one person answered questions as if they were God, there were sometimes problems with translations from Hebrew to English, or the opposite. But, we always found ways to work around such barriers, and this made me feel much more comfortable with talking to them. While I can speak somewhat intermediate or advanced Hebrew myself, this problem still came into play many times when I couldn’t necessarily explain something in a way the Israelis would understand. But again, this didn’t matter, as we all worked around this, and if needed, the counselors would give clear translation.

One great part of Saturday morning and afternoon was when, surprisingly, we got a lot of snow at EKC. For us Pittsburgh teens this isn’t an irregular occurrence (not including it snowing in April), but for the Karmiel Misgav teens it was a true treat! They went outside and were all throwing snowballs, some going out even without coats or shoes! All 40 plus teens got involved in the fun eventually, and this I will say was one of the highlights of our Shabbat. Another amusing activity was when the Israelis and Pittsburghers both had to imitate a typical American and Israeli. The stereotypes for each group seemed mostly accurate to us, though we took the topic seriously after the jokes were made.

Overall, the Shabbat experience with the visiting Israelis was truly the highlight of my month! Their kindness, openness, and radiating positivity and confidence to speak to us in a language that isn’t their original, all of these traits made just this one experience so enjoyable for me! Simply by sitting at our meal tables and munching on chicken nuggets gave us so much to discuss! What we all eat, what we like to eat, what we like in general, and such questions lead to a chain reaction of endless conversations! And these will last us for the entire JCM, and surely for many, many months in the future.

-        Madeline Herrup

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Reflections from Workshop 5

We started out the Workshop 5 with a lesson from the Israel committee about the various Jews in Israel, and their beliefs regarding religion and observance. From this I learned that in Israel there are mainly “religious” Jews and “secular” Jews, but not many people in between. I also learned that the country is primarily led by the religious Jews, with no separation of church and state, and that all Jewish weddings and Jewish conversions in Israel must be done according to the Orthodox law. Finally, I learned about the various other religions in Israel and how they affect the Jews.

We then split off for about 45 minutes into our committees of three or four fellows to continue to plan our upcoming self-planned Shabbaton; we brainstormed a lot of ideas for activities and discussions. Because this was our first time planning activities and discussions for a group of people, the process was a long and hard one. From this planning I learned a lot of things, but I mainly learned how difficult it is to plan successful programs and the tools needed to make ideas become realities. I took away a few crucial elements of planning such as the importance of meeting face to face, having back up activities and having very detailed outlines.

After that, we split up into groups, and each group made their own Jewish communities out of Legos. The idea was that there was limited space on the Lego board, so we could only include what we found absolutely necessary to have a successful Jewish community. This activity deepened my understanding of how different every person’s view of a “Jewish community” is, and what is really necessary to have a thriving Jewish community. This was the most challenging activity of the Workshop because we had to prioritize certain things over others and we had to come to a consensus with our groups about which institutions were most important. This activity was also difficult because it forced us to take a step back and really think about what is crucial in order for a community to be considered a Jewish community. For example, our group chose not to include any Jewish schools; this was a hard decision to make, especially because we only included one synagogue. It made me wonder how kids would learn about their faith without Hebrew Schools. In addition, one group chose to include a Jewish Community Center but not a Jewish Federation; we quickly learned that without a Jewish Federation a lot of aspects of a Jewish community would be impossible.

This activity ended with a discussion about how we feel about our own Jewish communities and how our life experiences have shaped these views. From this I gained a deeper understanding of how nurture plays into how we think about Jewish communities and how we view ourselves as Jews. We then went to the other JCC building for about an hour and a half to make phone calls to raise money for the Jewish Federation’s annual fundraiser. When we returned to the second floor, we finished off our Workshop by discussing the importance of Tikkun Olam and brainstorming some reasons why we choose to do Tikkun Olam. A big theme of this discussion was whether Tikkun Olam, or helping others, is a selfish or a selfless act. We discussed this by having various fishbowl debates with partners. These debates gave me a deeper understanding of human nature and why people really choose to help others. Lastly, we celebrated Jason's birthday before we left.

- Sigalle Bahary

Reflections from Workshop 3

This past weekend me and my fellow cohort members gathered at the South Hills Jewish Community Center for our 3rd and most exciting workshop yet! We started off our exhilarating workshop with a secret Chanukah gift exchange. Personally, I received a package of snickers and silly string. It was the best gift I'll probably get this holiday season. After a gift exchange filled with candy and laughter we all pulled out our best dance moves for a cohort dance video to Drake’s song Hotline Bling. Everyone was up, moving, and bouncing around. Everyone had to do an individual dance and most people participated in a group dance of some sort. Jordan Taxi got on my shoulders and pretended to climb a rope while I squatted up and down. The next hour or so we played several improv games that tested our wits. My favorite game was the superhero game. I broke quite the shvitz trying to stay between my hero and villain. The workshop continued with the journey of milk and cookies. A very revealing activity where we learned about how to properly set goals and how large corporations run. We were split into groups and asked to exam the mission, vision, and goals of different companies. The activity was very educational and informative. The workshop ended with an activity led by Jess and Dave. Overall, the workshop was a blast!

- Leo Julian