There was a lot about his visit to Pittsburgh that Zohar Mattatia found compelling, he said, including a tour of the Andy Warhol Museum and a visit to “all different kinds of synagogues.”
But while the 16-year-old Diller Teen Fellow and resident of Misgav, Israel, enjoyed the sightseeing and educational components of his 11-day trip to the city last month, he is also looking forward to showing Israel to 20 newfound American friends this summer.
“I want to show them my country,” Mattatia said of the Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows he got to know. “I have lots of things to be proud of. They showed me good hospitality here, and I want to give that back.”
Mattatia was one of 20 teenagers visiting the Steel City last month from Pittsburgh’s Partnership 2Gether region of Karmiel/
Misgav as part of the Diller Teen Fellows Program, a 15-month international leadership program for Jewish teens that includes a cultural exchange component.
The 20 Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows — all current 10th-graders — will, in turn, travel to Israel in July for a three-week trip that will include a one-week stay in Karmiel/Misgav.
Each year, 440 teens from 10 North American and one South African communities and their 11 partnership Israeli communities spend 15 months engaged in the Diller Teen Fellows program. Their training features a commitment to hands-on tikkun olam, building a connection to the Jewish people and Israel and deepening Jewish identity.
The theme of the Israeli teens’ recent 11-day visit to Pittsburgh was “Jewish communal responsibility,” said Chris Herman, Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows coordinator. Each day of the program focused on a different aspect of that responsibility.
The teens spent one day visiting synagogues of different denominations and attending a rabbis’ forum in which local Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis participated, sharing the various ideologies of their respective movements and touching on the varied Jewish perspectives on issues ranging from belief in God to gay marriage.
“The rabbis’ forum opened their eyes to the complexity of Jewish life in America,” Herman said.
The Israeli teens toured communal organizations while here, including Community Day School and the Hillel Jewish University Center. They also spent some time participating in acts of tikkun olam: preparing seeds to be planted in an urban garden activity at Repair the World and visiting senior citizens at Weinberg Terrace.
A program arranged by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee had the Israeli teens dialoguing with local Muslim teens, discussing concepts of brotherhood, Herman said. A HaZamir concert and Campus Superstar provided a taste of local entertainment supported by Jewish Pittsburgh.
But it was the time the Israeli and Pittsburgh teens spent getting to know each other that proved the most meaningful for many of them, according to Herman.
“We brought together two separate cohorts, and created one partnership cohort,” he said, adding that a Shabbat retreat at Emma Kaufmann Camp allowed the two separate groups the time and space to really get to know one another.
“The experience of all the group together, meeting new people and discovering different sides of them — on Shabbat, it’s very special,” said Roy Ben Tzur, 16, of Misgav.
Ilana Udler, a student at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School felt a bond forming between the two cohorts during havdallah that weekend.
“In that moment, everyone connected,” Udler said.
The teens made connections that “hopefully will last for a long time,” said Julia Freeman, a sophomore at Quaker Valley High School.
The Pittsburgh and Israeli teens also traveled together to Washington, D.C., where they focused on the problem of homelessness, toured the monuments on the National Mall and visited the Newseum, where they discussed the media’s role and responsibility in portraying Israel.
The Pittsburgh Diller Teen Fellows will be taking the lessons they learned in communal responsibility and applying them to concrete acts, Herman said, including participating in small group tikkun olam projects and J-Serve, the annual day of service for more than 15,000 Jewish teens around the world, which will be held this year on April 19.
The idea is to help create Jewish leadership going forward.
“At the end of the experience, we have the kids reflect on what we did and what they’re going to do in terms of expanding their leadership roles and their responsibility to others,” Herman said. “It’s a call to action.”
Recruitment is beginning for next year’s cohort of Diller Teen Fellows. Current ninth- and 10th- graders are invited to learn more at jccpgh.org/page/DillerTeenFellows.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.