Pittsburgh Jewish Community Leader to Light Israel's Independence Day Torch

Since the massacre that took the lives of 11 congregation members, Jeffrey Finkelstein has worked to strengthen bonds between Israel and Diaspora Jews

The Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony in Jerusalem, April 2018, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the 12 flame lighters.
Emil Salman

A leader of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, Jeffrey Finkelstein, will be given the honor of lighting a torch at the Israel Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem next month. Finkelstein has been the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh for about 15 years.

On October 11 last year, eleven people were killed in a terrorist attack carried out a white supremacist at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Pennsylvania city. In explaining the decision to choose Finkelstein to light the Independence Day torch, the public committee that selects the participants wrote: “In his community work, Finkelstein has succeeded in uniting the various denominations and groups in the Jewish community with the goal of moving it forward and strengthening the bonds between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.”

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Finkelstein has led efforts to have the Jewish community in his city heal since the mass killing, the committee wrote, and also noted that he established a special fund to provide assistance to victims of the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last month in which 49 people were killed. “In doing so, he underlined the worldwide Jewish commitment to the war against terrorism and racism of any kind,” the committee wrote.

Also selected to light a torch is Dr. Hodaya Oliel, a physician who has cerebral palsy. Her life story “represents the aspiration to integrate people with disabilities into Israeli society,” the committee wrote. Oliel will soon begin her residency at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot, The committee noted that, after she completed high school, she did her national service at Assaf Harofeh Hospital at Tzrifin, where, the panel said, “she realized that her personal story could help others, and she chose to study medicine.”

The committee also stated that Oliel, who on completion of her internship will be the first practicing female physician in Israel with cerebral palsy, “represents ... the victory of the spirit, which can overcome every difficulty.”

Oliel and Finkelstein were informed of their selection on Monday by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.