Ben-Gurion University expands presence in States with new Pittsburgh American Associates Chapter

Ben-Gurion University expands presence in States with new Pittsburgh American Associates Chapter

Pittsburgh has been tapped as the site for the newest chapter of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU). Local attorney Jeffrey Letwin of the law firm, Schnader, Harrison, Segal and Lewis LLP, was inducted earlier this month as the new chapter’s first chairman.

The AABGU has nine regional offices, and chapters throughout the United States, whose mission is to raise funds and awareness for one of Israel’s leading research universities, and one that aspires to be among the top in the world.

“This is an acknowledgement that Pittsburgh is a meaningful city by including us in their network,” Letwin said.

His goal as chapter chairman, Letwin said, is to seek support for Ben-Gurion University from Pittsburgh’s university communities as well as its entrepreneurial communities. By offering programs of interest highlighting the accomplishments and ambitions of BGU, Letwin aims to expand both its donor base and its profile in the Pittsburgh region.

Letwin’s legal practice, which focuses on emerging and established entrepreneurial companies, as well as his work on the boards of organizations such as VisitPittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Economy League, has provided him with the background and experience to move AABGU forward in Pittsburgh, he said.

“I think we’d like to expand our presence here,” he said. “Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is one of five universities in Israel. The university system is growing there, and that is important for the education and training for the country. And it is important for us to provide support.”

BGU is a leader in scientific innovation, applied sciences and interdisciplinary research, and is committed to social and environmental responsibility, according to Joe Breman, an AABGU major gifts officer, who is leading the efforts to launch the Pittsburgh chapter. “One of our missions is to share the academic excellence and expertise that comes from the faculty and the university,” Breman said.

“Pittsburgh is an extraordinary Jewish community,” Breman continued. “And it is a Zionist-focused Jewish community. The goals of the Pittsburgh chapter are to bring to the community assets from BGU from which the community can benefit, to form relationships, and to gain financial support.”

Those relationships and support have already begun to form. On May 13, David and Meryl Ainsman hosted an AABGU presentation featuring Dr. Ilan Dinstein of BGU’s department of psychology, and a collaborative colleague, Dr. Marlene Behrmann-Cohen of the department of psychology at Carnegie-Mellon University.  Dinstein and Behrmann-Cohen, both acknowledged experts in the field of autism, discussed the difference in the brains of toddlers who develop autism.

Behrmann-Cohen, who has had ties with BGU for years, said the launch of a Pittsburgh AABGU chapter would benefit Pittsburgh, as well as Israel.

“I have had academic offspring that have gone from CMU to Ben-Gurion University to start their own labs,” Behrmann-Cohen said. “And I have been to Ben-Gurion University many times. I will continue to be a happy supporter. Establishing close ties with Israel under whatever circumstances we can is a really good thing to do. And this is a very nice opportunity for the community to be involved in Israeli science, which is doing really well. It will be a benefit for our community to be involved in this enterprise.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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