Thursday, October 2, 2008

Squirrel Hill Native Recognized for Work in Middle East

Tel Aviv - The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a nice article about Live from Jordan and the Linowitz award that I received in September. Given that the Post Gazette is the homepage on my computer and its sports page is the first thing I read in the morning, I'm humbled. Thank you -

Here is the article:

Squirrel Hill native recognized for work in Middle East
Thursday, October 02, 2008

By Dev Meyers
Fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, Benjamin Orbach has traveled around the Middle East. But he admits he often finds himself "talking incessantly" about the Steelers.

A self-appointed, unofficial ambassador, Mr. Orbach is committed to presenting the Arab world with a wholesome and caring picture of Americans.

In September, his accomplishments were recognized in Washington, D.C., when the National Security Education Program presented Mr. Orbach with its 2008 Sol Linowitz Award.

Mr. Linowitz was a diplomat and major supporter of international education and NSEP.

NSEP is a major federal initiative within the Department of Defense and is designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills.

The goal is to strengthen national security and competitiveness by forming a partnership with the U.S. education community through language and cultural initiatives.

Mr. Orbach, 33, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, studied Arabic in Jordan as a Boren Fellow. His experiences as a Boren Fellow formed the basis for a book, "Live from Jordan: Letters Home from My Journey Through the Middle East" (Amacom Books, 2007).

Each year, NSEP honors one Boren Scholar alumnus and one Boren Fellow alumnus for their outstanding federal service and academic achievement.

Boren Scholarships provide funding for U.S. undergraduate students to study in areas of the world that are critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad. Boren Fellowships provide funding for U.S. graduate students to study and conduct research in these same areas of the world.

Mr. Orbach worked for three years for the State Department in the Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative and for a year as the MEPI coordinator at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. He is currently Creative Associates International's resident country director for the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Orbach, a 1993 graduate of Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Michigan and a master's in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

"In all of my travels to the Middle East, when I was a student and when I was a U.S. government official, I kept in mind that I was from Pittsburgh and representing the people of Pittsburgh," he said.

"I'm very proud of where I'm from and the values that I grew up with, and I've certainly confused more than a handful of people with my incessant talk [in Arabic] about our mighty football team."

Mr. Orbach has traveled to 12 countries.

"I've represented the priorities and programs of the United States to hundreds of people in the region as an Arabic-speaking American who cares about their needs, aspirations and the relationship between our respective countries and people," he said.

"The official awards are excellent achievements, but I am most proud of the positive impression that I've left -- through words and deeds -- with these great people who are the future of the region and whose attitudes and opinions matter greatly to the national security of America."

His mother, Linda, of Squirrel Hill, is "thrilled" that her son has been recognized for his work.

"He has many gifts and has received many opportunities," she said. "But what really matters is he is making the most of them -- and for the greater good."

"Live from Jordan" explores key issues in the Middle East, such as anti-Americanism, the absence of peace, Islamist terrorism and the causes of 9/11.

At the same time, the book puts words to the beauty and color of everyday life in Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- the camel markets, deserts, nightclubs, coffee shops and people.

"While I was living in Jordan and Egypt, and especially after I returned in the late summer of 2003, I was appalled by how the administration took advantage of our country's knowledge gap rather than took the opportunity to educate the public on the issues and engage Americans on solving our problems," he said.

Mr. Orbach encourages Americans to get involved and become unofficial ambassadors.

"People in [the Middle East] make a distinction between U.S. foreign policy -- which they are adamantly against not just for idealistic reasons, but because it has an impact on their everyday lives -- and the American people.

"Mariah Carey, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Michael Jordan, our democratic processes, minimum wage, our rags-to-riches stories -- these are all icons and things that provide hope and are the picture of American people.

"When Americans come and bring our processes, education systems and entertainment icons in the form of the Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, other development work, cultural and educational exchanges and other international volunteer efforts, it not only humanizes America, but empowers our friends to improve their communities and lives."

Mr. Orbach's father, Alexander, a teacher in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Religious Studies, is impressed by "Live From Jordan."

"[It] is not only informative, it is eloquent in its careful and considerate depiction of a world that we too often stereotype in extremely negative and frightening ways," the elder Mr. Orbach said.

"The book also reflects the maturation of an engaging young man who, through the course of these experiences, evolves from a naive observer into a confident commentator on a culture and on communities that, while seemingly distant from his own, still share many similar human aspirations."

For more information about NSEP, go to

For more information about Mr. Orbach, go to or

Dev Meyers is a freelance writer who can be reached at
First published on October 2, 2008 at 6:13 am

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