Pittsburgh Jewish Leader Chosen for Major Honor in Israel
His leadership after Tree of Life massacre cited as a reason for the selection
Jeff Finkelstein, CEO and President of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation, has been chosen to light what's called the Diaspora Torch at Israel's 71st Independence Day, a rite considered to be one of Israel's highest honors, the Israel National News reported. In making the announcement, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev praised Finkelstein's "standing alongside the families of the victims after the attack at the (Tree of Life) Synagogue and the families of those murdered in a mosque attack in New Zealand."
"He leads a unique rehabilitation process in Pittsburgh that symbolizes the entire world." Diaspora Torch selection committee
The public committee that chose the torch bearers said it was also influenced by Finkelstein's work beyond Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill community in the wake of the October 27 massacre at Tree of Life that killed 11 people. "After the terrorism in the mosque in New Zealand, he established a dedicated fund for the victims of the massacre, thereby emphasizing the cross-border Jewish commitment to fighting terrorism and racism of every kind," the committee wrote.
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The annual torch-lighting ceremony marks the opening of Israel's Independence Day. There are 12 torches, and in 2017, one was reserved for a member of the Jewish "disapora," or Jews who do not live in Israel. That year, Americans Michael Steinhardt, founder of Taglit-Birthright, and Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier lit the torch.
Last year there was no Diaspora torch after actress Mayim Bialik cancelled because of her "Big Bang Theory" shooting schedule. Other possible celebrity candidates were deemed to controversial, according to Haaretz and the Times of Israel .
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