‘Living bridge’ between Pittsburgh, Karmiel turns 15

‘Living bridge’ between Pittsburgh, Karmiel turns 15

(This is the first in a series of stories about Pittsburgh’s sister city relationship with Karmiel/Misgav in northern Israel. Associate Editor Justin Jacobs will be reporting from Israel; read his accounts in the Chronicle and on the blog “The Chronicle in Karmiel.”

Relationships take work. They require communication, patience and time to thrive, whether between friends, siblings, coworkers or cities. Yes, cities — and Pittsburgh is the perfect example.
In 1995, Pittsburgh entered a relationship with the northern Israeli town of Karmiel, along with its surrounding region Misgav, through Partnership 2000, a program created by the Jewish Agency for Israel, United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod/ UIA. In Pittsburgh, Partnership 2000 is steered by staff at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, along with volunteer leaders.
Partnership 2000 first grew from another Diaspora relations program called Project Renewal, which was founded in 1978. Through the 1980s, Project Renewal grew to reinvigorate almost 100 small neighborhoods in Israel, helping economically struggling communities modernize themselves.
“Israel was a poorer country [than it is now], and there were more physical needs in renovating buildings, building schools,” said Andrea Arbel, director of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership Division.
But as Israel prospered economically in the past two decades, American funding was less crucial to support Israel physically. The need for a Diaspora presence simply shifted.
“After 25 years of Project Renewal, there was still a need to maintain the relationship between overseas communities and Israel in a real way,” said Arbel. “And so Partnership 2000 was born with a different focus and ideology.”
That focus still held funding for new facilities in Israel in high regard, but more emphasis was placed on personal connections.
“The meaning of Partnership, unlike some philanthropic organizations, is a people-to-people thing,” said Raven Garfinkel, a former co-chair of Pittsburgh’s Partnership 2000 branch. “All projects were supposed to have kesher (connection). There’s an element of what’s good for us and them, creating that bridge.”
Today, Pittsburgh’s relationship with Karmiel/Misgav is one of the strongest in Partnership 2000, with an annual budget of about $425,000.
But things weren’t always so smooth. Originally, Pittsburgh and Baltimore worked together with Karmiel and Misgav in a four-way partnership. The American half of the partnership met in Breezewood to discuss agendas and programming.
“It was rather complex because, as you know, Jewish people don’t always get along,” said Garfinkel.
The initial budget was $600,000, with the Baltimore branch of Partnership 2000 raising two-thirds of that amount. Though contributing less money, the Pittsburghers involved weren’t short on passion, and “as it evolved, we became administratively more active,” said Garfinkel. Around 2000, the partnership forged ahead with just three partners — Pittsburgh, Karmiel and Misgav.
Through the years, the partnership has brought Israel to Pittsburgh in different fashions, from visiting students from Karmiel to annual Israeli counselors working with Pittsburgh kids at Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, W.Va. But the impression may be larger overseas, where Pittsburgh people and dollars have truly helped Karmiel thrive (including a large new bike trail).
But organizers insist that the most crucial piece of Partnership 2000 is people-to-people, with “70 percent of programming dedicated to our living bridge,” according to Arbel.
“These programs bring together JCCs with JCCs, schools with schools, youth with youth and professors with professors,” she said.
The most recent of these programs just launched yesterday, Dec. 22, in which 13 young, Jewish professionals (this journalist included) will travel to Karmiel to work with a group of Israeli peers on community volunteer projects.
Every relationship takes work, but that’s no surprise — the willingness of Jews in both Pittsburgh and Israel to put in that work is.
“We’re not dreamers. We don’t have stars in our eyes,” said Garfinkel. “We’ve had plenty of bumps along the way. But we’re very proud of what has happened so far.”

(Justin Jacobs can be reached at justinj@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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