When Sabaa Hassan Sayed first entered the Manchester Bidwell Corporation on Pittsburgh’s North Shore Monday morning, she saw something she didn’t expect.
“It was full of hope,” said the vice head of the Akko Education Department, who was in Pittsburgh this week with a delegation of Israeli Jews and Arabs to learn best practices in preparation for the anticipated year-end opening of an MBC-affiliated center in northern Israel.
That new center, which broke ground on its facility late last year, will provide opportunities for individuals in need to gain valuable employment training in an atmosphere of coexistence, allowing Jews and Arabs “to recognize their similarities and begin forging a better future for Israel,” said William Strickland, president and CEO of MBC in a statement.
Sayed, along with Jane Cynkus, COO and operations project manager of the Akko Center for Arts & Technology (ACAT), spent Monday immersed in the culture that is MBC, observing the formula that has made the project so successful in Pittsburgh.
The replication of the model in Akko will be the first center of its type outside of the United States.
For the last four decades, MBC has reversed the negative trajectory of scores of Pittsburghers through such avenues as photography, horticulture, ceramics and the culinary arts, boosting self-esteem and providing people with skills they can use to find jobs. The MBC model has been successfully replicated in eight locations across the U.S.
“We are here to learn its practices and protocols,” Cynkus said, “and see it in action.”
ACAT will offer visual arts programs in 3-D printing and photography to at-risk Arab and Jewish youth. For adults, ACAT will provide career training in food and beverage management as well as automated machine operations.
Cynkus and Sayed were both impressed by the “spirit” of MBC, a nontangible element that could only be assessed by being there, they said.
“There is something common to everyone who works here,” Cynkus said. “We saw that’s what will make this project work.”
Those qualities common among the staff of MCB include “a driving commitment, and a belief in the mission,” said Cynkus.
“There is a certain way that people talk to each other here,” she added. “They have a language. You can feel the spirit of this place. There is a lot of respect.”
Akko was chosen as the site of MBC’s first overseas project because of its diversity. About 28 percent of the town’s 45,000 residents are Arab, while 70 percent are Jewish. In some neighborhoods in Akko, located in the Northwest Galilee region, Jews and Arabs work together, although their children attend different schools.
While there are other coexistence projects in Israel, Sayed sees ACAT as unique.
“The others are not the same,” she said. “Here, it is something more, something special.”
Other shared society programs in Israel are focused on dialogue, she said, but ACAT will put Jews and Arabs together in an educational environment, where everyone is treated with respect. In each class of 16 students, there will be two instructors, Cynkus said: one Jewish, and one Arab.
“Everyone will be treated like they are special,” said Mark Frank, of Pittsburgh, a longtime associate of Strickland’s who has been instrumental in getting ACAT off the ground. “And they will develop a unique ability to interact because they’re being treated as special.”
The intended outcome of the program likely will be a more authentic amity, according to Sayed, because it will be a natural result of working together.
Also joining the delegation to Pittsburgh Monday evening were Akko Mayor Shimon Lankri and Ohad Segev, the general director of the Akko municipality who visited the MBC last year.
The contacts made on this trip will be valuable, said Cynkus, to help guide those behind ACAT as the project continues to develop.
“As we stumble and fall along the way, we will know who we can brainstorm with,” she said.
Cynkus hopes that this visit to Pittsburgh will help to create a “ big buzz,” and promote additional awareness and support of the project.
“I think Mark chose a good place for the project,” she observed. “It seems to fit well in Akko, and I think we can create positive energy and get more people engaged.”
Once Sayed saw the students and teachers in action at MBC, she was certain of the value of the program.
“It’s very amazing,” she said. “The connection between the staff and the students. You feel it.”
The delegation from Akko was to spend the remainder of the week in Pittsburgh meeting with community members and touring the region.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.