I usually write about either our community happenings here in Pittsburgh or about what is happening within the world of Jewry outside of the United States (and, unfortunately, as I state later in my message, there is much to think about concerning the safety of civilians in Israel today). Today’s message, though, focuses in between, recognizing Pittsburgh’s role in the Jewish life of Pennsylvanians. We often forget how important our community is in ensuring the positive future for Jews within our state, and this past week I was privileged to witness our impact in that sphere.
I spent two days of the last week in Central Pennsylvania with my counterpart from the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia. We had two destinations. The first was Harrisburg where we spent an entire day meeting with our legislators. Hank Butler, who runs the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition which works on behalf of the Jewish Federations in the Commonwealth, put together an incredible schedule. We had deep conversations with our legislators about some of our communal needs including security, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) and how to fight back against hate crimes. All were wonderfully receptive. Among those with whom we met were some of our Western Pennsylvania elected officials: Jay Costa, Dan Frankel, Devlin Robinson and Tim O’Neal. We also met with the newly appointed Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Rick Siger, and my college classmate Uri Monson who is serving as Secretary of the Budget. I was so impressed with the professionalism and caring nature of all those we spent time with. In addition, I again realized the power that our community has in affecting change through our legislative channels. I truly believe that this impact improves not only the lives of Pittsburgh Jews, but that of all Pennsylvanians.
Our second stop was in State College where we visited the new Penn State Hillel building. Neither of us were able to attend the official opening in the fall, so we wanted to see it with our own eyes. What an incredible facility situated close to campus and in the heart of the shopping district! I know how long and hard they worked to acquire the property (and a leader in our community helped make that happen), raise the money and develop the unique model. The property now houses not only the Hillel, but also private student housing and retail. It has been a great model of a nonprofit partnering with a for-profit developer to create a financially sustainable space which will serve the Jewish student community at Penn State for years to come.
We know well here in Pittsburgh that buildings are just homes to house programming. And this Penn State home houses a top-notch cadre of professionals. Everyone we met impressed us. The work they do in engaging our kids (and Penn State has a lot of our kids from the Pittsburgh region) is something special; they showed it in their metrics and in the students we had the opportunity to meet with. Our Federation helps to fund that Hillel and I know that my counterpart and I feel so good about what we do there. Of course, they also provided us with Penn State Creamery ice cream!
Clearly, there is a lot happening in Central PA impacting our local community. We are lucky and smart to have the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and the Penn State Hillel working there on our behalf. And, I believe that the larger Pennsylvania community is fortunate that the members of the Pittsburgh community can see the value of working outside of our corner of the state.
The recent situation in Israel makes it impossible for me to only focus on local or state issues. I can’t complete this message without a strong mention of the continuous rocket attacks from Gaza targeting innocent civilians in Israel. As of Thursday afternoon, over 800 rockets have been fired putting 1.5 million Israelis within rocket range. Having been there, specifically in Sederot right along the Gaza border just a few weeks ago, I understand how traumatic this is on the population. We visited the Israel Trauma Coalition in Sederot, an agency we fund, and I can only imagine how busy they are. May Israel continue to protect her citizens.
Shabbat Shalom and praying for Shalom in Israel.
Happy Mother’s Day!