Who is Naim Obeid, Whom We Welcomed Last Week? Originally published November 23-24, 2018

Last week we welcomed a visit from Naim Obeid, Executive Director of the Akko Center for Arts and Technology in Israel (A-CAT), who visited on Shabbat.

The Akko Center has Pittsburgh roots!  Mark Frank, Pittsburgher, founded the Akko Center based on the model of Pittsburgher William E. Strickland, Jr., in the Manchester Bildwell Corporation.  Flourishing on the North Side, Manchester Bidwell advocates an atmosphere of art, light, and music.  They look for the “genius in everyone.”  Bill Strickland took a trade school, melded it with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, and has formed a greenhouse of arts education and mentorship for inner city youth.  Beginning with ceramics, photography, and other arts, eventually they have included horticulture and even medical fields in their training.  And they are a nationally accredited and state-licensed adult career training institution.

So Mark Frank has transferred those ideals to Akko, Israel, a port city of about 50,000 with a cosmopolitan mixture of peacefully coexisting people - a lot like Pittsburgh in attitude if not size!  (Rather like Squirrel Hill, too.)  Despite the segregated school system, and the fear of conflict, the classrooms at the Akko Center are evenly split between Jewish and Arab students.  Executive Director Naim Obeid is an Arab Christian born and raised in Akko, who believes (according to the Post-Gazette) in building bridges to help allay hatred from taking root.

Rabbi Adelson was presented with a letter from the folks at the Akko Center, which says in part, “Today, we, as leaders of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in Akko and the Western Galilee, stand with the Pittsburgh Jewish community in our hearts, words and actions.”  It goes on:

We grieve the horrific attack on the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, mourn the loss of precious lives and stand in solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and the supportive interfaith community of people that advocate for freedom and safety for all.

We join the strong and clear voice that will not tolerate any anti-Semitism, hatred of foreigners and violence directed at one religious, ethnic or national group and its members.

The letter is signed by Naim Obeid, Mark Frank, Shimon Lankri (Mayor of Akko), F. Andre Bahus (Parish Priest, Greek-Catholic church), Shekh Samer Assi (Emam of Akko), and Rabbi Yosef Yashar (Chief Rabbi of Akko).

Pittsburgh’s roots are deep and our reach is wide.  May we have the strength to continue spreading peace and light.