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FEDERATIONS IN ACTION: Pittsburgh community helps Galillee cycle into the future

August 2010: Most Israelis are in agreement that the Galilee is rich in natural beauty, but when it comes to moving to the area or even investing in it, the enthusiasm seems to wane. While the Galilee and Negev comprise 75% of Israel’s landmass, only 30% of Israel’s population lives in those areas. Lack of job opportunities and poor public transportation has had the effect of turning them into a socio-economic periphery as well as a geographic one.

That’s why the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s involvement in the Karmiel-Misgav area in the Central-Lower Galilee is so vital. Since 1995, Pittsburgh has been partnered with the region as part of the Jewish Agency P2K project and has been engaged in activities related to community building, regional development and youth.

According to Marcie Lang, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh representative and  JFNA community representative, one of the major challenges facing the region is trying to stop the exodus of young people. “It’s a great place to raise kids, but once young people finish their army service and come back from their trip abroad, they often move to the center of the country.”

Lang said that there are signs that this trend may slowly reverse itself. She notes that the train from Acre to Karmiel should be complete by 2012, making it easier to commute to places of employment and education.

Currently, though, the partnership is working to accentuate the area’s many positive sides. The Galilee is well-known to tourists as a center for 'slow tourism' - cute bed-and-breakfasts and pleasant nature trails.

The "P2K Trail,” where visitors can hike or bike at will, is one of the projects operated by the partnership with the objective of strengthening the Karmiel-Misgav region from a tourism and demographic standpoint as well as allowing the Pittsburgh Jewish community to play an important role in the region's advancement.

According to Linda Simon and Skip Grinberg, Chairs of Partnership 2000 for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh: "The Partnership studied the needs and created the dream, vision and practical process which led to the development of the P2K Bike trail.  On behalf of Pittsburgh, this is a dream fulfilled and we're very excited to see the plans for use of the trail."

The full trail stretches from Karmiel, the urban center of the region with a variety of pleasantly shaded corners and parks, to Misgav, composed of 35 residential communities and villages, of which six are Bedouin villages and the remaining 29 are Jewish communities. A trip along the trail affords visitors a real survey of the area.
There are a number of access and exit points, allowing visitors to choose their own way through, taking into account the degree of difficulty of a specific path and the time they have available. Future projects in the planning are the amenities: bike rentals, riding instruction, on-trail meals and nearby accommodation. One place to stay is the Aluteva guesthouse which on weekdays caters to families that include a special needs family member, while on the weekend it opens its doors to the general public. Guests enjoy the atmosphere and simultaneously contribute to a worthy cause.

Besides for working to support the trail, the Pittsburgh Jewish community has already actively enjoyed the developments in the area. Last year, Karmiel-Misgav residents joined the partnership’s steering committee and community lay leaders on a group cycle through the trail.

But this is just the beginning, Lang is quick to say. The partnership has other tourist attractions in the works such as a “sound park;” a biker’s hostel with communal kitchens, bike maintenance and a swimming pool for travelers on a budget; and expanded visitor areas for the two rock quarries in the region, seen as attractive natural resources.

“Hopefully, this will create a snowball effect," Lang says. “More people will come to enjoy the area and need more hotels and guest accommodations, as well as restaurants. The minute you have something that attracts people year round, the economy is on the increase.”

Learn more about the P2K trail here.

For comments and questions on this article, write to Suzanne Selengut