Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pre-ISS Overnight

Welcome to Diller Pittsburgh Cohort 5’s Israel Summer Seminar Blog! Well, not quite, but we are so close. After a very apprehensive and emotional past few weeks this overnight was just what we needed to come together as a group. The first few hours of team building activities certainly got the bonding going right away. We started with an icebreaker involving a pool noodle, lots of string, and a maze that I won’t even try to explain in words. Then came the outdoor training activities that truly became a testament to our brawn and brains, and of course our teamwork skills.  After getting our hands a little dirty we ate lunch and then got to enjoy a couple hours of free time; of which the majority was spent playing an intense game of football in the pool. This was some friendly competition, certainly with greater emphasis on the competition than the friendly. Safe to say you should really be watching C5 for some future NFL stars, especially from the girls.

After free time we sat down to talk about Israel. We first evaluated our own relationship with Israel, which was hard to identify a true connection for the majority of us who have yet to experience it first hand. We then looked at a broader view of all North American Jews’ connection to Israel. Everyone really had very different opinions and views on this connection which were really intriguing to listen to and add to, as the conversation ranged everywhere from the obligatory support we feel for Israel to questioning the pressure we put on Israel’s each and every decision. To finish off the program Yarden taught us about the history of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, and she led us in singing the beautiful song.
After these programs Chris sprung upon us the news that we were responsible for cooking our own dinner. We were all stoked to do this, some even ready to get out in the woods and start hunting. Luckily we were provided with everything to make quesadillas, grilled cheese, and vegetables over the hot fire that Noah, Henry, and Yarden slaved over. With a solid team effort we produced a lovely dinner, followed up by a birthday celebration for Becca, when an unfortunate amount of frosting ended up on my face, and Henry was chased down by Mark, Tyler, and Jacob Riberi until he too was covered in chocolate.

            Following our beautiful group effort, Chris led us in two programs that really made us think and allowed for a lot of self-reflection. The first was based on a song entitled “rak po” which is Hebrew for “only here” or “just here”. The song is about the writers contradicting love for Israel, as there are numerous things he hates about his country, yet would never want to live anywhere else. We each then wrote a stanza or two of our own connection to any place of choice, noting both the good and bad we see in “only here”. I was totally kidding about the football earlier but I mean it when I say we have some true poets in the cohort. Honestly I was blown away by not just one person’s writing but seriously every single person who chose to share. We sure do have a way with words, some even in Hebrew. Constant reminder that at Diller I am surrounded by amazingly talented, thoughtful, and unique personalities. Next we watched a video filmed in Israel entitled “one wish”. In this people of all ages, races, and religions were asked if they had one wish what that would be. Answers ranged from world peace to the destruction of the Arabs to the destruction of Israel to getting a girl to losing weight. It was an extremely powerful video and opened our eyes to many themes, although we discussed the potential bias created by the editors. We then each got time to think of our own “one wish”, and just as in the video, ours ranged through all different topics and time frames.
            Our last structured event of the night was the ma’agal lilah, which of course I cannot tell you anything about because “what is said in this circle stays in this circle”. This was certainly one of our longest ma’agals, as it didn’t end until close to 12. Some went right to bed afterwards, while others participated in a random assortment of activities. Myself, Riberi, Gabe, Ben, and Henry took to the mini golf course and with one ball and one phone as a flashlight somehow actually completed a lovely round of golf. Henry certainly had the shot of the day, chipping it with the purple club from the grass off multiple rocks and edges and right into the hole, but in the end I reigned champion, showing all the guys up of course. As it got later the camp got quieter, and the first day of the overnight came to a close.
            We were awoken early Monday morning by the swim team that arrived at J and R with much more early morning enthusiasm than we could muster up. Zombishly we packed up all of our stuff, ate breakfast, and prepared for our “Pittsburgh themed” day. First stop was station square where we got aboard the ducky tour. It was cool to see the city from a different perspective, both on land and in water, and to learn random facts about Pittsburgh that I likely otherwise never would have known. After a nice ride filled with terrible duck puns, we departed for the Heinz History Museum, where we were free to roam for about an hour. As we went where we so pleased, Chris told us to keep in mind the question of how we each individually connect to Pittsburgh, a topic to be discussed later. As we were leaving we all got our free souvenir mini pickle, our newfound cohort mascot. Get it, dill(er) pickles. Ha ha.

            With our stomachs growling we showed up at Milky Way and devoured all of the pizza, salad, and fries we could. We then returned to the JCC, piled all of our stuff in Chris’s office and did some final activities. We started by watching a Ted Talk given by Israeli artist Hanoch Piven, who creates sculptures of peoples’ faces by using objects that represent a part of them. Our task was to create a portrait of a randomly selected Diller fellow. We had some time to get our creative juices flowing, then presented our work to the group, who had to guess who was represented. We were able to guess just about every single one, which was really cool to see how well we actually know each other in more ways than we thought. As promised we then briefly discussed our connections to Pittsburgh, which turned out to be quite different for each individual. Lastly, Ram Kozovsky came to speak to us about Israel, specifically the conflict with the Arabs and Palestinians and its origins. I certainly am no expert on the subject so it was good background information to learn so we have a basis for all of what is currently going on there and we are very appreciative for all of the knowledge he shared with us. Just past 5:30 all 18 of us scurried out of the JCC and headed home to start and finish packing and return to the JCC only 16 hours later.


After leaving the overnight on Monday was one of the first times in the past few weeks that I was truly excited for Israel and at last it seemed like a reality. So much doubt and uncertainty had been present in the weeks prior, but finally things were coming together and a few hours of packing and preparing and a few hours of sleep later we would be on the bus ride to JFK. Then at exactly 8:34 PM on Monday, July 21 I received a text message from Chris saying, “Hey guys, emergency conference call at 9 pm. Check emails for details. Parents should be on as well.” My stomach immediately dropped. This could only mean the worst. We had heard about a few cohorts deciding not to participate in the ISS, but as far as we knew Diller had not yet made any new changes to the itinerary. Trying to be optimistic, we speculated maybe it would just be Chris notifying us about other cohorts that chose not to attend and to reassure us that everything for our trip was in order. As hard as I tried to listen to that small voice, the over powering thought that yelled our trip was cancelled was all too hard to ignore.  For me it didn’t matter that the call was at 9, at 8:34 my world of excitement came crashing down. As others described it, I felt numb. It was such a hard thing for me to grasp, yet I know that for so long a little part of me had been expecting this. Arriving at the JCC the next morning at 10, without my gigantic suitcase and Diller backpack and without excitement and anticipation was so so difficult. Thankfully though, that meeting was so weirdly uplifting. Chris already had a full itinerary planned for us to go in December, and plans for next week were already in progress. Love that man, and everyone that has worked so hard to make our Diller experience everything it can be. Sure we were sad and disappointed, still are and still will be for a while, but we came to the realization that this is all for the better for the time being. Right now while of course it is okay for us to be upset about our trip no longer taking place this summer, our thoughts and prayers should be focused on Israel. Our partner cohort in Karmiel-Misgav is our family, and I undoubtedly think of them and their families and their well being every single day, and I’m sure I speak for most of us here when I say that. Israel is our beautiful homeland and though we are not physically there now, it is certainly in our hearts and our minds and everything that is happening now will only make us appreciate it even more when someday we will arrive.

~Allie Shepard

Monday, April 14, 2014



Thursday started off with all of the Israeli teens waking up bright and early with the Americans, just like the rest of the week.  While we were at school, the Israelis were visiting several places.  They went to the JCC to work with the children that go to pre-school there.  Shira told me that it was really fun to be with the kids.  They also went to see CDS, a Jewish school in squirrel hill.  They saw the Cathedral of Learning too.  Shira said that it was really cool and that she thought it was really interesting to learn about it.  She liked that there was an Israel room inside of it too.  They got to see what it was like in Oakland also. Lastly, they went to Hillel.  Shira also told me that it was very interesting.  Each day for the Israelis was so special and they all seemed like they really enjoyed it.  We met Thursday night, at the JCC with our families too.  The Israelis sat with their host families, and we all enjoyed the time together.  It was cool to look around and see that in just 3 nights, most of the teens felt like they were a part of another family.  The parents (and siblings) then left to go downstairs and participate in a parent program led by Chris and Nir.  The teens stayed up stairs.  We dragged all of our chairs into a circle and sat with with the head of Diller International, Tal Gale. She led us through an interesting program.  She asked us, "why Pittsburgh?" or "why Karmiel- Misgav?"  We then learned about a story from the Torah, where the Jews had to make a decision to all fight for the land of Israel or split up.  We discussed why certain decisions were made and then discovered that it related to Diller.  Since they decided that they would all go fight, then half of the group would go back to Jordan, and the other half would stay in Israel, we are like the split tribe.  We are the connection between Jews in Israel and the rest of the world.  We then had separate Ma'agal lilahs.  The Israelis got letters and got to see videos from their parents.  That night we went home and were super excited.  The next day we would be bringing our Israelis to school with us.  Me and Shira barely slept the night before, because we were so excited.

-Jess Hertzberg

Sunday, April 13, 2014



On Wednesday, the Americans went to school and most of the Israelies met up at the JCC to start a full day of volunteering. From what I heard they had an amazing time helping people in need and making a difference in Pittsburgh. First they volunteered with repairing the World Organization and in the afternoon they did Habitat for Humanity. In Habitat for Humanity they painted a house, fixed a garden, and generally cleaned up all the garbage. They made a huge impact volunteering.

Four of the girls from Israel; Yuval, Inbar, Sapir, and Yotal, came with me to school since it was the last day before my spring break. I was really excited to introduce them to all my friends and teachers. They shadowed my math, english, ivrit, and history class and then they joined everyone else to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Everyone loved meeting them and they enjoyed learning in my classes with me. It is a very different experience than they were used to which opened up my eyes and theirs to different ways of learning in school.

At the end of the day we all met up at the JCC to talk about our ISS committees. Chris and Nir, with the help from our awesome JC’s, led an activity to teach us how to create a vision and focused mission statement for planning a week of activities in Israel this summer. We created a core base for what we want our community week in Israel to be. We want it to be fun, to let us experience different cultures, learn the politics, and overall what life is like as a Israeli teen.  The program ended around 6:30 and then we were given the night off. It was a great day and we still have many more to come!

-Yael Itskowitz



Tuesday April 8, another busy day. The days started by visiting two synagogues. One conservative and one reformed. Alice said she felt an emotional connection in each. Beth shalom felt more inviting, while Rodif shalom felt dark and intense. But both had a connection to god. Following the visitations, was play time at the science center. That was the most fun, claimed Alice. After two hours of play time, it was time to get serious. They hoped on a big yellow school bus and headed down for the Waterfront. It was shopping time! More specifically, Target. Everyone tried on everything, whether it was boys, girls, children, or maternity. After shopping till we dropped, everyone met back at the JCC for a program. Everyone got into groups and rotated around the room where different rabbis of different practices were waiting. They talked about their movement and views. It was very fascinating and intriguing.  It was a long, exhausting, and exciting day. We were all happy to be going to bed.

-Jamie Eisner

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NAS Washington, D.C.


There is a saying that says, “the early bird gets the worm”, and on Sunday April 6th, the international cohort of Israeli and American Dillers took full advantage of this idea.  We all woke up before the sun was up at 5:00 in the morning.  However, this wake up and the ensuing five hour bus ride to Washington D.C., set off a day that will be unforgettable for all those that were involved.  The day started with a crazy bus ride that was full of snores, laughs, and multiple languages.  Throughout all of the craziness, people were still able to get to know each other better and create not only an international cohort, but also an international family. 

 Our first stop in D.C. was at B’nai Brith with Panim to hear the stories of people who had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.  We heard the heart wrenching stories of a delicate big man named Steve and an artistic and caring woman named Candy that left all of the Diller teens with a new perspective on what we are all able to do that can help stop homelessness in America. 

  Next, came a memorable monuments tour throughout Washington D.C. that was led by our incredible group of Junior Counselors.  Visits to the White House, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln memorial unlocked surprising connections between both these memorials and Judaism, and America and Israel.  The JC’s gave each of us an opportunity to create memories of all of the monuments that will not be forgotten any time soon. 

 Then came our first stop at the hotel and dinner at a kosher restaurant that left some people amazed by the amount of food on their plate.  After dinner, all of teens finished off the amazing day walking around Georgetown and enjoying sweets at the dessert places that were still open.  A day that will not be forgotten any time soon, April 6th was one that will be cemented into the minds of all of the teens for the rest of their lives.
 -Tyler Demchak

On April 7th, our coalition of Israeli and Pittsburgh Diller Fellows rose at 7:30 a.m. After a hurried cleanup of our rooms, we assembled in the hotel lobby with our luggage. The Israeli teens were surprised to see a waffle maker at breakfast and the line for the machine was very long.  We scrambled to get our luggage into the bus through the rain and proceeded to drive to the Capitol Building. We had an abbreviated stay at the Capitol and took pictures in the rain for a couple minutes. From there, we drove to the National Air and Space Museum and explored the facilities. Many of the Israelis were fascinated by the extensive array of airplanes and space shuttles. To top it off, we reconvened after 90 minutes in the giant McDonald’s TM  which awed the Israelis by its sheer size. The JC’s led a program devised to have us reflect on the past events during our initial stage of our NAS journey. Contrary to many of the other programs were participated in, this one was not discussion based as we had to find a quiet corner alone in the museum and look back on our experiences. There were three components in the activity. First, we needed to reflect on the friendships we made and how we could have enhanced them. Second, we wrote about our decisions thus far and what we could have changed in the past. Finally, we looked back on the challenges we faced and how we overcame them. After the program ended, we got back on the bus for our drive back to Pittsburgh.

When we returned to the JCC our parents were arriving and the opening ceremony started shortly after, led by Elly and Micah. During the opening ceremony several people spoke and the Diller teens were split into groups that rotated around the room talking to all of the parents about different parts of the weekend. When the night concluded, each American took their Israeli back to their house to meet their families and start the next exciting part of NAS.
-Mark Rollman

NAS Shabbaton


On Friday everyone arrived at the JCC. It was the first time we got to meet the Israelis face to face. We were all incredibly excited. When we got onto the bus we had a chance to meet everybody. We played an icebreaker called speed dating. An American would pair up with an Israeli and talk to them about whatever they wanted. Every 5 or so minutes we would switch seats and start conversing with someone else. Once we arrived at EKC we had an activity where we decorated candle holding jars.

After that, shabbat started and we all went outside to the porch and said some Shabbat prayers. Next, we went to dinner. We said kiddush and began to eat. We had matzah ball soup, chicken, salad and potatoes. After that we had some quality bonding time with each other. We talked until really late and had a ton of fun until we all went to sleep.

-Jacob Buchinsky


Saturday we all woke up with just as much excitement that we had the day before. I think we actually got a record amount of sleep for a Shabbaton that night, reasonably because the Israelis were exhausted so went to bed somewhat early on Friday and we followed shortly after. It was a cold morning and unfortunately didn’t warm up too much during the day; and if it was freezing for us Americans I can’t even imagine what it felt like for the Israelis. After breakfast, we had our Shabbat experience, which David and Jess led. We started by sharing and explaining our own different sects and practices of Judaism, as Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox are not titles of Judaism that the Israelis are very familiar with. We also learned that in Israel, Jewish practices and beliefs are often defined as religious or non-religious, without specific titles. However, as a group we collectively agreed that our own forms of Judaism cannot be simply defined under such broad categories and that we all have to define it for ourselves. We continued the Shabbat experience with prayers from the amazing siddurim that Jess and David made for us all. Next, we had ODT (outdoor training) led by the JCs, in which we did three activities that all showed us different ways of communicating. Two of the activities were done in complete silence, which we successfully completed to prove to ourselves that the language barrier could be worked around and that there are more ways than just speaking to be able to communicate. After these activities we had a little bit of free time before lunch, so some of us stayed to play football and basketball while others went back to the cabins to hang out. After lunch we had about three hours of break to do whatever we wanted. A lot of us went down to the beautiful lake at EKC to hang out for a while. We also got some good basketball, football, baseball, lacrosse, frisbee, and soccer going on the sports fields which was a lot of fun. Some took advantage of the down time to get some rest, and others just hung out at the cabins. Regardless, this time brought all of us closer together. By now we had already formed some amazing friendships in only 24 hours; which at that point was crazy to think it had only been that long and we were already so close.
Our next program, led by Chris and Nir, was all about our cultural differences and learning about each others countries and ways of life. The first part had us all laughing hysterically as we were split into groups to portray the stereotypes of Americans and Israelis. In the end we decided that although these stereotypes are somewhat based on fact, they are in no way true for everyone and that we can’t make those assumptions about people we have never even met. Next Yarden created for us a memory game with cards of various things with one card as the Israeli part and its match as the American part. Through this we saw the differences in some aspects of our lives, but also were able to see that some parts are actually quite similar.
Switching gears a little, we did a program in which we were broken into small groups and had to design a community. Institutions, such as temples and schools, were represented by small squares of paper with each having their own specific dimensions, and the whole town had to fit on a piece of paper we were given. There was a total of six groups- one all Americans, one all Israelis, and four mixed. It turned out that all six ideal communities were not all that different, which again brought us back to that idea that although we come from very different places, the American teens and the Israeli teens are not in fact all that different.
We then had dinner, where we also packed up our breakfasts to bring on the bus to Washington, D.C. early the next morning and received our NAS t-shirts. After dinner we were split into our committees for ISS and did some team building activities, which were very important, as we will be working hard in these groups planning for Israel. Following this we had a beautiful Havdallah and Ma’agal Lilah bonfire. When we returned to the cabins we had to pack everything up so that everything could be loaded onto the bus early in the morning. The girls never seem to be too good at the whole packing thing, not to mention our room was a complete disaster as always. Nonetheless, we got everything done and hung out for a little while before we finally all went to bed, excited to go to D.C. the next day, but not so excited to wake up at 5 A.M.

-Allie Shepard