Osher course on Israeli change makers draws large audiences
A historian of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh recently finished hosting a series of online courses highlighting an often invisible view of Israeli society.
Barbara Burstin, a longtime faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, led the multi-week adult education classes, which more than 90 people attended through the CMU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Burstin hopes to offer the class in 2022 at the University of Pittsburgh.
Six women leaders spoke during the sessions: the Arab and Muslim Israeli leader of the YMCA in Jerusalem; the head of an organization that helps Ethiopian Jews resettle in the Jewish state; an American ex-patriot who is building a niche tourism industry in the remote southern Negev desert; an Israeli Jew representing the Israeli-Arab task force, who works to help Israeli Arabs find meaningful employment in Israel; a human rights lawyer dealing with gender equality among Jewish and Arab Israelis; and the wife of former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, who heads an organization dedicated to helping asylum seekers.
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Burstin said she invited the six speakers to speak “on a side of Israel that never makes the headlines.”
“It was to get a feel for the diversity and complexity of Israeli society – from scratch,” Burstin told The Chronicle. “People appreciated this and had a vision of Israel that they could never have – the dynamism of Israeli society – without getting into the tensions and political issues. ”
Burstin bonded with the six women through his daughter, who moved to Israel with her family and teaches at the Hebrew University.
“I think everyone in Israel has a story to tell – it’s about eliminating them,” Burstin said. “It’s a fascinating company.
Robert Heilbronner said he was delighted to attend Burstin’s class and enjoyed it very much. He has been taking Osher lessons since 2018.
“It was part of my grand strategy to keep busy and be mentally stimulated as I prepared for retirement,” said Heilbronner, a retired dentist and non-practicing Jew from Forest Hills.
Heilbronner, the descendant of Holocaust survivors, said that “the fate of the Jewish people is still on my mind – history is inevitable. And I certainly lived with that, these stories, throughout my youth.
He added that Burstin’s class was “particularly fascinating in listening to the interactions” of the Israeli Jewish and Arab Israeli communities.
“It’s great to hear stories like that,” Heilbronner said. “It gives you hope when Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews get along. Maybe there is some hope for our country, where the gap between people is getting huge. “
Sue Linzer, a former staff member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, also attends Osher’s classes, which she says have kept her up to date with the nonprofit world in Israel since her retirement in 2016. She attended the presentations of the Israeli company of Burstin.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to hear from fantastic presenters, true role models of female leadership,” Linzer told The Chronicle.
Linzer said she was especially excited to hear from Julie Fisher, Shapiro’s wife, and how she moved from an American career in education to a job in a more political world in Israel. She was also touched by Fisher’s volunteer work with her eldest daughter in south Tel Aviv, which led to a consortium to help asylum seekers.
“For me, it was truly inspiring to hear how a volunteer experience would drive this nonprofit organization,” Linzer said. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.