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The strength of our Jewish community is our membership. We are blessed by so many warm and caring individuals and families that make our community a great place to live and work. Our member Q & A section seeks to tap into that community spirit and find the mitzvot motivation of our members.

In June of 2022, Michael and Betsy Kline traveled to Israel with the Pittsburgh Federation Mega Mission.

Thank you Michael for sharing you thoughts on this adventure and learning experience. Pictured with the Kline's are an Israeli couple that the Michael and Betsy became “pen pals” with through the Federation.


By Michael S. Kline

It was clearly a fortuitous happenstance that I travelled to Israel. I really had no plans to travel there, and I really didn’t feel a strong connection to Israel. Or so I thought!

Almost a year prior, my Brother Brian and his wife Judy had found an advertisement in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle about the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation sponsoring a trip to Israel. For some reason, it was on their bucket list. They thought that it might be of interest to us as a family trip. And for some reason, it struck a chord with me. When I asked my wife Betsy, she was immediately in. So, it looked like a trip to the state of Israel was a go.

The Federation had our Israeli Guides do almost monthly programs on different aspects of Israel and things that we would experience while there so I had a chance to acclimate to Israel over time.

Nevertheless, after a long period of waiting, the takeoff came abruptly. The trip was like being in a temporal and spatial time warp. It was arduous, but it would come to be seen as an uncomfortable experience that would be well worth it.

Our first stop in Israel was to get currency. It was sort of like getting chips to play roulette and dice in Las Vegas.
Our taxi driver, who I would have never picked out as Jewish was an Immigrant from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is one of the countries that made up the previous Soviet Union. His family had actually came over when he was around 3. He was now in his 30’s. It was from him that I got an inkling of what a diverse group, the people of Israel would be.

Actually, Israel is made up of people from all over. They are not all Jews who came from Europe. There are many from Arab Countries(Sephardic), the United States, South America, Australia, Africa and really all over. There is also a diversity of religious views.  Secular Jews are the largest group. The religious Jews are more concentrated in certain areas like Jerusalem.

 It is its diversity that gives Israel  strength. This is much like the United States. Although some people tend to forget this. Each of these groups brings something very different and important to the table. One of the keys to Israel’s future may be how well it integrates and coexists with the Arab population within as well as its neighbors. That is a topic of continuing debate in Israel.
When I was in the tenth grade of Sunday School at Agudath Achim, our confirmation class took a trip to New York City. I thought that it was so cool. About one out of every ten New Yorkers was Jewish. For a Jewish boy from Altoona, that was really something. But in Israel at least three in every four people that we saw were Jewish. And even more in certain areas. I felt that I was home. And I felt like I was connected with this land.

And indeed, country makes you feel like you are home. They feel that Jews  who is not in Israel are indeed still scattered in Diaspora. Any they let you know that there will always be a place for you in Israel. That’s where your ancestors started out from, and that’s where there will always be a place for you.

Being in Israel indeed made a strong connection with me. It’s amazing to see what they’ve “done with the place” in a very short amount of time. And under such adverse conditions both environmentally and politically.

Israel will be 75 years old next year. It is a mere baby compared to other countries including the United States. They have taken basically a third world country and developed both the land and the economy into first rate powers  in the modern world. They are cutting edge in fields like technology where they are second only to the Silicon Valley in technology start up companies What’s even more amazing is to think of how much more they could be accomplishing if they didn’t have to devote so much of their capital to defense.

The Jewish Federation helps facilitate many programs in Israel. We visited an elementary school, and an after school and evening program Vo technical program for high schoolers and adults that integrates Jewish children with Arab. We also saw an afterschool program for high school kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We visited the Joint Distribution Committee and saw how they were helping Jews in the Ukraine and the Soviet Union. They already had long standing infrastructure in those countries with community centers and other programs. When I asked how they integrated their services with the governments, they answered that those countries have few if any social safety nets.

I know many Jews that have done extensive travelling, but have never been to Israel. I would highly recommend it. It will like nothing that you’ve ever experienced. You’ll feel a connection to the land and the people. You will learn a lot about yourself by exploring your history. Betsy and I would go back in a heartbeat. You will develop an emotional connection to this place. I didn’t believe that I would, and you may not either. But I did and I think that you will too.

  Past Member Q&A's