There may be an ocean separating Jewish Pittsburgh and its friends in Israeli sister region Karmiel/Misgav, but the distance between the two communities is minute.
When news hit Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region that Jews in its beloved sister city had been attacked and murdered by an anti-Semite on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life building, the “shock was just as raw and hard for them to deal with — they were mourning the same way Pittsburghers were,” said Kimberly Salzman, director of Israel and Overseas Operations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, who was in Israel when the massacre in the Steel City occurred.
When Marcie Lang, the Pittsburgh Federation’s representative in Israel — who has lived in Karmiel for 30 years — first heard of the attack, her reaction and the reaction of her neighbors, was one of disbelief. As the reality began to sink in, she said, “it was a bit of frantic time, until we knew what happened.”
On Oct. 30, just three days after the attack in which 11 congregants at the Tree of Life building were murdered, the Jews of Karmiel/Misgav arranged a memorial service to mourn with and support Pittsburgh.
Two groups of Pittsburghers were in Israel at the time — one from Congregation Beth Shalom and one traveling with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. Because both groups happened to be on their way to visit the Partnership2Gether region, planning a memorial service “felt like the right thing to do,” Lang said.
“It felt right to have a place to be together and think of those who were [at the Tree of Life building], those who died and those who were hurt,” Lang said. “We wanted to show our solidarity with Pittsburgh.”
More than 300 local Israelis, as well as the two delegations from Pittsburgh, came together at the Karmiel Cultural Hall to share words of comfort. Current and past P2G steering committee members, participants of an array of current and past P2G programs and families who have hosted visiting Pittsburghers attended to pay their respects.
“It was incredible that they put together such a powerful vigil so quickly,” said Salzman, who was in Israel on a Jewish Agency mission along with Federation professionals from around North America. The assembly proved “we are one people, even though there is an ocean separating us.”
At the vigil, the mayors of both Karmiel and Misgav spoke, and leaders of the community lit candles in memory of the 11 victims. Organizers shared a video showing Israeli children holding signs of support for Pittsburgh. Other young people from Karmiel/Misgav performed songs in tribute to the victims. There was also a short message from Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“For more than 20 years, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh has created friendships and bonds with its P2G community in Karmiel and Misgav,” wrote members of the Partnership2Gether unit in Israel to its constituents following the attack. “The outpouring of love and support — fury and sadness has been overwhelming. Taken for granted among family. And yet never taken for granted.”
Other partnership regions throughout Israel also held memorial services, sent videos, photos and messages, and posted words of comfort on social media. Children in Israeli schools discussed the attack, and also created memorial spaces and lit candles in memory of those who were killed.
“The outpouring of love was incredible,” Salzman said. “For the [residents of Karmiel/Misgav], the attack felt like it took place in their backyard. It hit them personally, and close to home.”
“This felt like it had happened to family,” said Lang. “We were just as hurt.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.