Both attended Taylor Allderdice High School at the same time but never met. Both are avid Steeler fans. Both were at the State Department and would not have met, but for their love of the Steelers.
Ashley Kushner and Ben Orbach were introduced to each other by a mutual friend at the State Department and married last June in Seven Springs. They were introduced because each had Super Bowl tickets.
Each is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic. Each works toward peace in the Middle East. And each makes Pittsburgh proud.
Ben said, “We’re having a Super Bowl party at our apartment in Tel Aviv. We invited about 25 American, Israeli and Palestinian friends, but to be honest, I’m not sure how many people will end up coming. The thing is, the game starts at a little past 1 a.m. here and probably won’t finish until after 5. So, if you aren’t a die-hard fan or you really don’t even understand American football, it might not be the biggest draw on a work night. We’ll have the terrible towels out, though, and we’ll be cheering on the team.”
“Cheering on the Steelers from overseas makes you feel closer to home,” Ashley said.
“Every Monday, I try to squeeze the Steelers into my work meetings,” Ben said. “ That might be ok if I worked in the Athlete’s Foot at Monroeville Mall. But I work in the West Bank, with Palestinians, in villages. No one has ever asked me about why Jerome Bettis was nicknamed “the Bus” or when the lob to Weegie Thompson ever actually worked. Usually, the best I can do on this front is when I’m asked where I’m from; I always answer (in Arabic) “Pittsburgh — we have the best American football team in the country, the Steelers.” People nod sagely, sometimes confused. Other times they smile at the mention of football. Palestinians love soccer.”
Ashley and Ben are not unusual. Pittsburghers, who live all over Israel, are having Super Bowl parties. Varda Epstein, a graduate of Hillel Academy, is Myron Cope’s niece. Now living in Efrat, she will be taking her terrible towel to a Super Bowl party at one in the morning. It will be too late to bring along her 12 children and six grandchildren.
“My family has season tickets and I grew up going to Steeler games,” Ashley said. “I have a lot of great memories sitting at the game with my Dad drinking hot chocolate from our big silver thermos while listening to Myron Cope on our little transistor radio. The best, though, was going to Detroit in 2006 with my Dad, brothers, and other Pittsburgh friends.”
Ashley is the Senior Rule of Law Advisor of the United States Agency for International Development, West Bank/Gaza Mission. She oversees the Palestinian Authority legal reform and development package for the US State Department. She also advises the US government on Security Sector Reform, SSR, criminal justice and human rights issues in the region.
In September, Ben’s accomplishments were recognized in Washington, D.C., when the National Security Education Program presented him with its 2008 Sol Linowitz Award.
Linowitz was a diplomat and major supporter of international education and NSEP.
NSEP is a major federal initiative within the Department of Defense and is designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills.
The goal is to strengthen national security and competitiveness by forming a partnership with the U.S. education community through language and cultural initiatives.
Ben’s book, Live From Jordan, Letters Home From My Journey Through The Middle East offers an fresh perspective and an inside story of the fight for Middle East Peace from the Arabic point of view.