Twelve teenage basketball players and their three coaches from Karmiel-Misgav, Israel, have been up to much more than hoops this past week.
Sure, their visit to their sister city of Pittsburgh was about the two games against the varsity team of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
But the visit mostly served as a vehicle to foster connections to the people and the city.
“Sports is a great way to connect the Jews in Pittsburgh and the United States with our Israelis in Israel,” said Charlene Tissenbaum, co-chair of Partnership2Gether’s Youth Kesher committee. “It’s a great way to connect them on a secular and neutral ground.”
The Israeli basketball delegation is visiting Pittsburgh within the framework and sponsorship of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether. Partnership2Gether is a joint program of the Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“It’s not just about the basketball, but about making connections between the two groups of kids,” Tissenbaum said. “It strengthens their relationships as Jews and to each other.”
While here, the Israelis were housed with host families, most of whom have children who are members of the JCC’s varsity basketball team, according to Debbie Swartz, Partnership2Gether coordinator, overseas planning associate.
“Families in Pittsburgh who provide hospitality to visiting delegations such as this are not only performing a great mitzva, they are furthering Pittsburgh’s relationship and connection with the people in our partnership region,” she said.
In addition to the two games between the Israelis and the JCC team, the delegates helped cook Shabbat dinner at the Hillel Jewish University Center, did some volunteer work for the Federation, visited the Strip District, toured the Israel room in the Cathedral of Learning, participated in a couple of Chanuka events, and met some of the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Petersen Events Center, according to Tissenbaum.
“We wanted the Israelis to see how we, as Jews, function in our community,” she said. “We are trying to show them both regular Pittsburgh and Jewish Pittsburgh.”
And connections indeed have been forged this week, according to Tissenbaum.
“Everybody worked together,” she said. “It’s an amazing group of kids. Everyone’s connecting. These kids are great. They are fun, and they’re smart.”
While there are no firm plans yet for future games between the two teams, Sam Bloom, director of the Emma Kaufmann Camp, and director of the sports and recreation program at the JCC, has some ideas.
“We’d like to send a delegation to Israel to play,” he said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)