Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Final Goodbye

“Hey Henry, What’s up?”
“uhhhh not much, what’s up with you?”
“Henry I have some good news, you’ve been selected to be one of the Junior Counselors for Cohort 5, are you interested?”

I was speechless and struggled to form a simple “yes”

And just like that, I was a JC.           
The 11 months that followed the phone call have truly been unforgetable. From the awkward introductions at the first workshop, to meeting our Israeli Family at NAS, to these past four days we spent together and everything in between; I loved every minute of it. No I really loved every minute of it, the cooking, the cleaning, waking up early, and even being the last one up at night; if I was doing it for one of my fellows, whatever it was, I loved doing it.
            I have never been able to properly explain to anyone why I loved being a JC so much and I think I’ve finally figured out how. The first person who knew of my plans to apply for JC was my own JC, Felicia Tissenbaum. We were walking into the Rayman’s center during community week last summer when I told her. Her eyes lit up as she screamed “Hen!!! That’s great!!!!!!” and then told me how and specifically why she was excited for me. She was genuinely excited that I would get the opportunity, she was happy for me.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but throughout the year Felicia enabled, encouraged, and watched me grow, push myself, and learn about myself through the experiences Diller, and the JCs in part, provide for all of the fellows. It is through this process that the JCs develop an indescribably close, loving, and trusting relationship with each and every one of their fellows. Eventually, the JCs reach a point when they feel pure exuberance at the prospect of one of their fellows having an opportunity to grow and learn and be happy.
That is exactly why I love being a JC; the thrill of empowering my fellows and watching them grow as both Jews and leaders while learning about themselves along the way. After all that, I feel indescribable joy and a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride when I become witness to one of the fellows going to places they wouldn’t have gone without their time in Diller. It is the thrill of taking a group of teenagers unfamiliar to each other and making a family of leaders.
            Honestly if these are my last words to the Diller community at large, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone at the JCC, Federation, and at the Diller international office for making this life-changing program a possibility. Thank you to Chris, Nir, Ziv, Shay, Meital, Jared, and the rest of the staff that I worked with. Thank you to all of my friends/family from Cohort 4 for making the first leg of my Diller journey amazing.  Thank you to Felicia and Orly for being the best JC’s a JC could ask for (and for helping me so much this year).
Lastly, I want to thank my fellows. You guys have changed me and taught me more than you will ever know. You guys taught me never to settle and pushed me to be the best me I could be. You all never cease to amaze me. Thank you for everything.

Its been Real,

Henry “cake” Cohen
Fellow 2012-2013
Junior Counselor 2013-2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

East Coast Summer Seminar

Day One: 7/29/14

Early Tuesday morning the Diller teens arrived at the jcc for a long bus ride full of goldfish, pillow pets, elephants on sticks and lots of laughs. 6 beautiful hours later the teens arrived in the home of a Philly steak sandwich, Philadelphia. We visited the liberty bell, presidents house site, declaration house, and independence square. After 3 hours of fun facts, the teens got to explore Walnut street, and look at all the adorable puppies. Following free time the group reattached for an open discussion about freedom and what it means to you. Obviously, we're starving by now! Burger.org here we come for some yummy dinner! The teens got more time to explore the city after dinner. We arrived back at the hotel by 9:30. Ma'agal discussion took place at 10. By 10:45 all the teens were back in there rooms. Where Allie consistently stubbed her toe.

~Jamie Eisner

Day Two: 7/30/14

The Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows were awoken by knocks on their door from the leader of the day, Jess. Half an hour later, at nine, the fellow met for a delicious continental breakfast of cereal, cinnamon buns, bagels, toast and eggs. At 9:30, we boarded the bus and made our way to the National Museum of Jewish American History. We dropped our bag off and began our tour on the top floor.

Before going to the first exhibit, the tour guide explained how the building was designed to represent American Judaism. Even the windows were carefully chosen. They had net-like decorations on them that made the rest of Independence mall feel separate. Though the Jewish museum and the rest of the mall were together, they were also separate entities. Throughout their history, American Jews have struggled to find a balance between assimilating into the world around them, and clinging tightly to their Jewish culture, religion and heritage. As one historian put it: before 1945, Jews in America taught immigrants how to be American, but after 1945, Jewish Americans taught each other how to be Jewish.

Keeping this in mind, we began our tour of the museum. This first part of the museum was about Jews in colonial America. Many Jews immigrated to America for religious freedom and then had a lasting impact on the nation. Throughout the tour we learned about legislators, donors, actors and entrepreneurs leaving their mark on America. The final aspect of the museum was one that focused on new developments in American Judaism like the reform, conservative and reconstructionist movements.

After the museum, the cohort sat down to a boxed lunch in independence hall. This was followed by a bus ride to New York City. After two hours, we arrived at ground zero and the national 9/11 memorial museum. We took in the beautiful waterfall memorials and met the MetroWest cohort. The museum was one of the most powerful ones I’ve walked through. To ensure that everyone had a complete learning experience, we discussed 9/11 and its impact after we finished seeing the museum.

We then went to the synagogue in West Orange, New Jersey for dinner with MetroWest. We had delicious pasta and enjoyed the company of fellow North American teens. The teens had great conversations over dinner, and really got to know each other during some ice breakers led by our leader of the day.
After a long day of education and fun, we teens went to MetroWest host homes and really got to bond with other Diller Teen Fellows from America.

~David Frisch

Day Three: 7/31/14

I’m pretty sure it was a Thursday. Not positive, but pretty sure. We did a lot that day, so I’m going to try my hardest not to forget anything. I’m still going to leave out some massive detail, I just know it. The day officially began at 8, or 8:15 for those who ordered breakfast 8 minutes before the intended meeting time. As luck would have it, the 15 minutes would prove insignificant to the time spent waiting in an unfortunate amount of New York City related traffic.

In traffic, we got word from Chris that due to traffic (or pancakes, depending on your persuasion), we were not going to be able to visit Ellis island. Some were crushed, the others were sleeping. We ended up going to the lower east side to do a massive scavenger hunt for historic buildings and shops. I didn't know that New York City was home to so many pickle shops! It's the little things about New York that make it the unique powerhouse that it has become. 

After the scavenger hunt, we went on a guided tour of an old tenement building. I couldn't imagine living there! When we were in the kitchen the temperature would rise a single degree every 10 minutes just because we were all in the same room. Can you imagine cooking in there with a coal stove? Cause I certainly can't. After the inside portion of the tour had come to a close, we had a guided walking tour where we discussed not just a few people, but mainly the buildings they occupied and what the history of neighborhood has been up through now. It was really interesting, and a wild New Yorker approached our city safari to give us a very long hello. 

After that, we met Meital and the Montreal cohort at AJWS, American Jewish World Service, to talk about tikkun olam. The discussion got a little heated, but it was incredibly informative. After that, the cohorts went their separate ways, them to the wax museum and we to Times Square. We met back at the bus at 9:30 and were on our way back to the hotel. That was one heckuva day.

~Noah James

Day Four: 8/1/14

Friday August 1st was one the last day us Diller Fellows were in New York. We sadly departed early in the morning and are breakfast and lunch on the bus. On the bus we ate, played games, and talked. About halfway through the bus ride we stopped at a rest area for about 50 minutes. During 40 of these 50 minutes, we talked about some of the questions we hoped to answer on this trip. The main question asked was, "Do you feel more like an American Jew or a Jewish American?" This sparked a very articulate debate and discussion. We promptly returned to the bus and rode it for about 2 more hours until it broke down. We then switched to another bus and returned to Pittsburgh.

~Jacob Riberi

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