Just as Pittsburghers each year look forward to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, a cultural keystone in southwestern Pennsylvania, those living in Karmiel, Pittsburgh’s sister city, have their own cultural event to eagerly anticipate: the Karmiel Dance Festival.
The Dance Festival, which has been held annually for 26 years, is three nights of nonstop dancing representing a variety of styles and cultures.
Nineteen teenagers from Pittsburgh who are part of the Diller Teen Fellows program just happened to be in Karmiel last week and got to see the festival for themselves.
“So far, the festival was one of the highlights of the trip for me,” said 17-year-old Diller Teen Henry Cohen via email. “Getting to see Israeli culture and Israeli people in that setting taught me so much more about their culture than any activity or video. It was a firsthand cultural experience. The greasy food, the people shouting in Hebrew and the lack of personal space somehow resulted in a highlight of my trip.”
The trip is the student exchange component of the selective Diller Teen Fellows 15-month international leadership program that began last September. Organized by Diller Teen Initiatives, a program of the Helen Diller Family Foundation, the Diller Teen Fellows program pairs incoming high school juniors and seniors from North American communities with Israeli students of the same age.
The Pittsburgh contingent is currently in Israel on a three-week trip that includes traveling the country, community service and living among their Karmiel cohorts.
The Karmiel Dance Festival is known nationwide in Israel, and welcomes dance troupes from all over the world. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre took part in the dance festival last year in its first international tour in nearly two decades.
The Diller teens appreciated the incorporation of Jewish themes in the festival.
“I was impressed by the way the dances captured different aspects of Judaism,” said 16-year-old Diller Teen Anna Hutchinson in an email. “Torahs were twirled and talit were worn.”
Hutchinson was also impressed by the “amazing” coordination of the event, she said, adding that there were not any glitches detracting from the dances.
One of the Israeli teens in the program performed on stage in the festival, but none of the Pittsburghers took part in the dancing. Despite not taking part in any of the dances, the festival nonetheless gave the teens a look into Israeli lifestyle.
“I think that the festival is more of a social scene than a dance festival,”
Cohen said. “Hundreds of teens were roaming the area, and for the most part they all knew each other. It was unlike anything I have seen in America.”
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)