Israel Week a smorgasbord for Pittsburgh

Israel Week a smorgasbord for Pittsburgh

Carmit Elkayam 

Photo by Adam Reinherz
Carmit Elkayam Photo by Adam Reinherz

To celebrate Pittsburgh’s 20 years of kinship with the Israeli city of Karmiel and its surrounding Misgav region, Partnership2Gether (P2G) is hosting Israel Week at locations throughout the city this week. With events including cooking demonstrations, dance ensembles and communitywide lectures, “there is something for everyone,” said Cindy Goodman-Leib, a past co-chair of P2G.

The series of events coincides with Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, which began Wednesday night.

Previously, Pittsburgh’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration was a one-day array of Israeli-inspired activities. This year, in addition to the Israel Independence Day event at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, functions will continue through Sunday.

“We’ve expanded from one day to a whole week so that the community can get a better sense of all of the connections we have all over Israel, but especially to Karmiel/Misgav, our partnership region,” said Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

To highlight one such connection, P2G, the Federation and Classrooms Without Borders collaborated to bring in Carmit Elkayam, a noted chef from Misgav, for a talk Monday night at Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill. Nearly 70 women turned out for the event, which focused on healthy Israeli cuisine.

While standing before various ingredients, pots and bowls, Elkayam began by announcing, “I want to show that healthy food is not so bad.

“It’s easy, not expensive; it’s delicious,” she said. “You can bring it home. You can make the change.”

Elkayam’s presentation showcased not only tactics for creating such dishes as zucchini soup and majadra (rice and green lentils), but also snippets from her personal journey. Six years ago, at the age of 48, Elkayam transitioned from her 20 years of service in the Israel Defense Forces. With the encouragement of her daughter, Elkayam left her family, moved to Manhattan and attended a six month seminar and completed a two month internship with the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.

“I was the mama of the school, because everyone was 20 or 25,” Elkayam told the amused crowd in Pittsburgh.

Upon returning to Misgav, Elkayam became a personal chef. This decision enabled her to combine her love of people and healthy food.

“It’s my mission to change the people I meet and to do it in a nice way,” she said.

Along with encouraging listeners to take small steps toward healthy eating, she urged an abandoning of processed foods.

“Especially in America, it’s easy to buy food in boxes,” she explained. “That’s the problem, because we are all victims of this industry which is tasty and helpful but not good for us.”

In place of processed food, Elkayam offered recipes and suggestions.

“Why buy tomato sauce if you can make it by yourself? It’s cheaper and has less sugar and salt,” she said.

Following Elkayam’s presentation, participants sipped cabernet sauvignon and ate several dishes that she discussed.

“I would love for people to come away with great ideas about cooking healthy food,” said Debbie Swartz, Federation’s overseas planning associate. “Equally important is that people have positive feelings about Israel and Israelis, and want to go visit.”

Other events during Israel Week are sounding a similar note.

On Wednesday at the South Hills JCC, Israeli artist Daniela Shacham Sarig was scheduled to host a workshop aimed at allowing participants to “unleash” their inner artist. And on Thursday, the community is invited to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut at the Squirrel Hill JCC. There will be a petting zoo, carnival games, food for purchase, presentations and performances.

On Friday, P2G is hosting a young adult Shabbat. People between the ages of 22 and 45 are invited to attend services and dinner at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation. The following day, Saturday, May 14, Rabbi Marc Rosenstein will speak after services at an extended oneg at Temple Sinai. Rosenstein is a resident of Misgav and past executive director of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education, an NGO whose self-described vision of Israel is “as a shared, pluralistic, tolerant and safe society for all its citizens, where there is mutual trust and a meaningful and real dialogue between groups who accept each other respectfully.”

Finally, on Sunday at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, Rosenstein and Rabbi Danny Schiff, Federation’s Foundation Scholar, will deliver talks entitled “One in Five: Palestinian Arabs and the Jewish State” and “New Pew and the Israeli Jew.”

“I hope the variety of experiences during Israel week will give Jewish Pittsburgh and all of Pittsburgh a great sense of the cultural and ethnic diversity of Israel and why it’s so important that Israel remains an independent and democratic state,” said Hertzman.

Goodman-Leib agreed, saying, “This week is a special opportunity for the Pittsburgh community to remember and celebrate, and to connect with Israel through art, dance, food and learning.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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