Dan Onorato, Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate, visiting children
from the Jewish Agency's Youth Futures program in Netivot.
November 19, 2009 / 2 Kislev 5770
A democratic candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania toured Israel as a private citizen, but took notes as a future leader of America.
Dan Onorato, a candidate for governor in 2010, visited Israel from November 8-14 with a delegation from the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
"I've been blown away by being here. To actually see a place that from the religious side of things is the cradle of three major religions is very exciting," said Onorato, who is currently the Chief Executive of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home to 1.2 million residents.
The group, which helped facilitate Onorato's visit, toured across the country, from the Karmiel-Misgav region in the north to Netivot -Sdot Negev region in the south, thanks to a special Jewish Agency Partnership 2000 link between the regions and these Jewish communities. Karmiel-Misgav is connected to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Netivot-Sdot Negev is paired with Philadelphia and even has a "Philadelphia square" in its downtown area complete with a liberty bell.
The municipal leaders who met with Onorato include Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar and Misgav's Regional Council Mayor Ron Shani, as well as city managers Hanna Kovel and Eti Levy.
In the Galilee, the group visited Kishorit, an integrative community for people with special needs and autism, and Kibbutz Eshbal, a community that offers educational and social support for youth at risk. They also heard from immigrants from the FSU at the Karmiel absorption center.
In Netivot, the group met with children and their "trustees" from the Youth Futures initiative, a Jewish Agency program where youth at-risk are teamed up with personal counselors who advocate on their behalf and offer them emotional and educational support to guide them to live up to their potential.
The group ended the day at Volume Center, a recreational center for young musicians, where they were treated to musical performances. Onorato was particularly moved by the lyrics of a song written by a young musician conveying the sentiment that despite the violence, "We will not give up."
"Just seeing how close the conflict is to people's daily lives and how they live under constant pressure and yet still manage to thrive is inspiring," said Onorato.
If elected, the future Governor of Pennsylvania plans to replicate much of what he saw in his home state.
"I was watching very closely because programs that help those with special needs can be applied anywhere. My state definitely has at-risk kids and those with special needs and it's important to help those in trouble get back on track," he said.