In the rest of the world, 20 years is typically marked with a gift of china, but here in Pittsburgh for those involved in the city’s partnership with Karmiel, Israel, and the surrounding Misgav region, a two-decade anniversary is celebrated with friendship.
Partnership2Gether (P2G), a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. During its tenure, the program has forged scores of relationships between residents of the Steel City and their partners thousands of miles away.
“The way that Partnership connects Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Jewish community with Israel takes a historical and religious relationship and makes it personal in a way that makes Israel so much more meaningful to the Jews in Pittsburgh,” said Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“It really makes Pittsburgh a more vibrant place to live because the Israelis who come visit Pittsburgh are people we know and have built relationships with over many years,” he added, “and I think that the people from Karmiel and Misgav feel the same.”
Cindy Goodman-Leib, P2G’s past co-chair, affirmed Hertzman’s assessment.
“We’re really finding this interweaving of people’s personal lives that Partnership is having,” said Goodman-Leib. P2G always provides “a place to sit at the table.”
“You’re not connecting through the windows of a bus, you’re connecting through a kitchen table and definitely getting to know people, which is definitely a strong ingredient in building strong relationships.”
In May 2015, Assaf Nabarro and nine other Israeli runners traveled from Karmiel and Misgav to Pittsburgh to run in the DICK’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon.
In line with the Partnership program, each participant was provided home hospitality. Nabarro stayed at Goodman-Leib’s house. Like Nabarro, Goodman-Leib and her husband Scott were participating in the Marathon.
One year later, when Nabarro’s family decided to travel to the United States, they included Pittsburgh on their itinerary. Without reservation, Goodman-Leib opened her home to the Nabarros for their stay here.
“You don’t often hear of foreigners visiting the U.S. and saying, ‘Top of my cities to visit in the U.S. is Pittsburgh,’ but the power of the personal relationships that we’ve formed makes people look at Pittsburgh in a new way,” said Hertzman.
“I now feel like I have family in Israel plain and simple, these are relationships that are just I can’t explain it more than that’s what it is,” added Linda Simon, past co-chair of P2G. “You immediately become close and there’s some kind of unspoken way that you bond immediately with the folks from the region.”
Marlene Silverman, a longtime volunteer with the program, said that for her, it’s hard not to consider everyone involved as family. She looks at the residents of Karmiel, in Israel’s north, as her own kin.
“You’re worried about your family, proud of your family, happy when good things are happening, worried when things are risky,” she explained. “When anything is going on in Israel, immediately we’re reaching out.”
Between 2006 and 2012, Skip Grinberg held various leadership positions in P2G. He estimates that he went to Israel between 10 and 12 times during those years.
“The best thing about it was the relationship building,” said Grinberg. “I feel like I could go to Karmiel or the Misgav settlements right now and be at home. I have some good friends and it’s just been a wonderful experience.”
Grinberg said that he keeps in touch with a handful of his Israeli friends.
“We talk on the phone every two months,” he said. “We send them all holiday cards, which they love. If they don’t get a picture of Mary and the dogs they get upset; they don’t care about seeing me.”
Over the past two decades, Sue Linzer, associate director of planning and director of overseas operations at the Federation, has been to Israel more than 30 times.
“I have spent so much time in the partnership region over the past 20 years. I have had opportunities to develop professional relationships. My professional relationships have become personal relationships and they are very near and dear to me,” she said. “Every time is more special than the last one. There’s always something new and exciting to see.”
One of Linzer’s closest relationships is with Marcie Lang, Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel representative.
“She and her husband Simon have hosted me many times,” said Linzer. “I treasure the Shabbat dinners in their home with their friends and family members.
“It’s wonderful to tour the sites and to visit places,” she added, “but it’s those people to people relationships that sustain the long term connection to Israel and to our partnership region. It’s what keeps us going back time and time again.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.