New group expands Israeli connections in Jewish Pittsburgh
Programs can help bridge the gap between American Jews and Israeli Americans.
A Jew living in America is a minority, but an Israeli Jew living in America is a minority within a minority.
That’s why, for years, Israelis living in Pittsburgh have been supporting each other and gathering for activities ranging from holiday parties to family picnics to book clubs. When a new Israeli family moves to Pittsburgh, those living here reach out to help them find housing and otherwise become acclimated.
Now, local programming for Israelis — and for those who may not hold an Israeli passport, but still love Israel — will expand through a new affiliation with the Israeli-American Council, an independent, national nonprofit established 11 years ago.
Following the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building, IAC representatives reached out to Israelis in Pittsburgh to see what it could do to support the community.
“After the shooting IAC contacted me and said, ‘We want to do something together,’” said Anat Talmy, who now holds a part-time position with IAC organizing events in Pittsburgh. The result was a solidarity Shabbat “Shishi” dinner held at Temple Sinai on Nov. 9 that attracted more than 200 people from across the denominational spectrum.
“The community’s warm welcome of the IAC was a catalyst for incorporating Pittsburgh into our coast-to-coast community,” said Shoham Nicolet, co-founder and CEO of the IAC. “Pittsburgh is joining our network of 57 communities from coast-to-coast, and our goal is to build a community that connects our next generation to its unique identity and heritage and that strengthens the bond between the people of the United States and Israel.”
An Israeli-style Purim party held on March 31 at Congregation Beth Shalom was the second IAC event here. It attracted 110 mostly-costumed Purim revelers with lively Israeli music, food and dancing.
Talmy, the mother of four young children, has lived in Pittsburgh for 16 years. She was raised in Rehovot, Israel, and came here with her husband so they could both work on their master’s degrees in computer and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. They liked Pittsburgh so much, they decided to stay.
Since then, she has seen a need to not only connect Israelis living in Pittsburgh together, but to the wider Jewish community.
Under the umbrella of IAC, Talmy said, programming in Pittsburgh can have “more added value for Israeli-Americans, whose needs and character are unique.”
Israelis, she said, want to immerse themselves and their children “in Israeli culture and in spoken Hebrew, and we want to have more programs about Israel — for example, the history, and the conflict. I don’t want my kids growing up apologizing for their love for Israel. We want to empower and to strengthen the next generation of Israeli Americans to have Israel in their hearts.”
The challenge of being Israeli in America “is that as an Israeli in the U.S., I am a minority,” Talmy said. “In Israel, I grew up not as a minority. As an Israeli in the American Jewish community, I am a minority within a minority. Now I have the same obligations of every American Jew: how to thoughtfully transit my identity and my values to my children. This is a challenge we all face as American Jews. However, in addition, I have this unique identity that I have inside myself, the love for Israel, the love for its culture, the people, the language, and I have to pass that on, too, to my children. This is crucial to me. IAC supports me in those efforts.”
IAC programs also aim to bridge the gap between American Jews and Israeli Americans, according to Talmy.
“Most Israelis aren’t plugged into the conventional outlets of the Jewish community,” she explained, noting that many of them are secular. “They may not be synagogue members, and their kids may not attend a Jewish day school. We want to plan programs that will attract both Israeli and American Jews, so we can get to know each other, make friends, and make Jewish connections.”
Strengthening the bond between American Jews and Israel is another goal of IAC.
“I feel Israel is being pushed from being the center of the Jewish people by some in the American Jewish community,” Talmy said. “IAC’s goal is to try to create a home for pro-Israel Americans, and we, Israeli-Americans, can help bridge this perception of the gap by open dialogue and eliminating misconceptions on both sides.”
Talmy estimates there are between 100 and 150 Israeli families living in Pittsburgh, although many Israelis come to Pittsburgh for a few years, then go back to the Jewish state, so the numbers are fluid.
Future IAC programming here is likely to include a leadership initiative and a program for middle and high school students. There will also be more Friday night dinners, and a family picnic for Yom Haatzmaut. The programs will be open to American Jews as well as Israeli Americans.
In addition, IAC will partner with Classrooms Without Borders to bring Hebrew-speaking Holocaust survivors to Pittsburgh tell their stories.
For Abby Schachter, who is both an American and an Israeli citizen, it is meaningful to get together with others to “express a full-throated love for Israel, and love for the Hebrew language, and love for Israeli food and music, art, and also to come together as Jews.
“It is not a question of nationality,” Schachter stressed. “ I am a member of the Jewish people, and being attached to and wanting to spend time with people who have a similar love of the Jewish homeland is part of my Judaism.”
Julie Paris, who is not an Israeli citizen, was happy to join in the Purim festivities with her Israeli friends.
“I like supporting the Jewish community and the Israeli community here in Pittsburgh,” Paris said. “It’s great to see our community come together to celebrate the holiday Israeli-style.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at