The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Board of Governors meeting took place in Jerusalem a week ago. Natan Sharansky, one of my personal Jewish heroes, completed a nine year term as the Chairman of the Executive and Isaac “Bougie” Herzog was unanimously elected to take over that role. I recommend reading about his election, his background and his interests in this Times of Israel article. JAFI is one of our Federation movement’s historic overseas partners and is one of the main ways for worldwide Jewry to work together on global Jewish issues.
During my few days in Israel, I had the opportunity to attend an Onward Israel mega event in Tel Aviv. Approximately 2,000 college aged young adults swarmed the Tel Aviv Cultural Center for an evening of inspiration and entertainment. Onward Israel has its roots right here in Pittsburgh where the Shapira Family conceptualized a post-Birthright Israel, more extended experience in Israel through a resume building internship program. Seven years ago, there were less than 250 participants from around the world and in a short period of time, it has grown more than tenfold. In fact, we are really proud that this summer, Pittsburgh has 45 participants – its largest cohort ever! I was lucky to spend some time with the few I could track down at the mega event to hear firsthand about their time in Israel and their internships. They could not have been more positive! Our Federation subsidizes about 30% of the costs of this trip because detailed research on the impact of Onward shows the positive Jewish identity building it has on this generation.
While I only had the opportunity to interact with some of our Onward Israel participants, Federation has a hand in many more young Pittsburghers experiencing Israel this summer. The twenty Diller Teen Fellows landed last week. The Emma Kaufmann Camp Staff in Training Israel program, underwritten by a Federation endowment fund established by the Philip Chosky Charitable Foundation, is there. There are dozens of Birthright Israel (Federation funds Birthright) buses zipping around Israel with our Pittsburghers. And many more are participating in other teen experiences, all of which Federation subsidizes through our Israel Scholarship Program.
My first Israel experience was on a teen trip in 1986. It was absolutely life changing and began my strong attachment and love of Israel. It gives me goosebumps thinking about how many young Jews we are providing with this incredible opportunity at this very moment.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.
Jeff Finkelstein, President/CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh