A dozen people sit around one big table at Panera Bread in Squirrel Hill. They talk about school, life and the usual small talk. They get together twice a month — speaking Hebrew the entire time.
Even though the Israeli community in Pittsburgh is relatively small and transient, for the past couple of years there has been a rather successful gathering that occurs every other week.
Every other Sunday, the local Israelis meet at the restaurant to chat for a while about common interests for the Israeli community here and in Israel.
Most of the people involved are in their late 20s. The majority of them are studying at Carnegie Mellon University, working on their master’s degrees or doctorates.
One of those at the restaurant is Ziv Baum, 30, of Squirrel Hill, who serves as the president for the Israel on Campus student club at CMU. Although the club is mostly made up of Israelis, he insists anyone can join.
“The IOC is an organization that is open to everybody. Israelis and non-Israelis,” said Baum. “The main goal of the club is to present Israel’s image as a place that is not only an area with wars, but also a place where people can have fun.”
One of the primary IOC events of this past year was a celebration of Israel’s 60th Independence Day.
Baum arrived in Pittsburgh in August 2007, after he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Israel.
“I decided that receiving an MBA would be something new and something that would give me a lot of options in the future,” Baum said. “At CMU, many students come from a background of technology and engineering. I got a scholarship and eventually came here.”
His wife, Sharon, arrived in Pittsburgh a couple of months ago. The couple, originally from Haifa, are adapting to their new environment.
“Pittsburgh is a very nice city, full of very nice people and gives you a family feeling” Sharon said.
Kfir Catalan, 29, of Shadyside, recently moved here from Herzliya. This is his second time living abroad.
“When I was 5, my family moved to Turkey,” Catalan said. “I studied in an American school for five years.”
The decision to come to CMU was the culmination of the process of picking a good school for his master’s degree.
“I learned economics and Japanese for my bachelor’s degree and I searched for a university that offers something similar,” Catalan said. “At first, I saw that the University of Hawaii offered a master’s degree in business administration combined with the Japanese language. However, Hawaii is located too far away [from Israel] and I searched for closer places I can come.”
Catalan looked back to his first day in Pittsburgh. “The first time I was here, I didn’t like the city,” he said. “Now that I live here, I’m getting used to the place and you can notice that Pittsburgh is really cool.”
Guy Zinman, 29, of Squirrel Hill, is also originally from Haifa. He is studying for a doctorate in computational biology at CMU.
“CMU’s computer science field is very strong and it is cooperating with Pitt that has plenty of resources in the field of biology,” Zinman said. “I get the best of both worlds.”
He says there are many similarities between his hometown of Haifa and his current home here.
“I’m from Haifa, and Pittsburgh reminds me a lot of Haifa. Every neighborhood is located separately and both are college oriented towns.”
(Alon Melamed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)