This week, Pittsburgh Jewish Federation President Jeff Finkelstein and SpaceIL President Morris Kahn will join 14 other men and women chosen to light 13 torches at the 71st Israeli Independence Day ceremony in the capital.

The theme of this year’s event, “The Israeli Spirit”, spans both the accomplishments and tragedies of Israel, with torch lighters including the three bereaved mothers of Israeli teens kidnapped and killed in 2014, and Paralympian Moran Samuel.

Representing the Jewish Diaspora this year is Jeff Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, who came to Israel in memory of the 11 people killed in last October’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting – the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.

“It’s an honor to be here and to participate in this,” Finkelstein told Arutz Sheva. “But as I tell everyone, I wish I weren’t here. I’m here because 11 people were killed in Pittsburgh and I’m here to represent them and the people of Pittsburgh. It’s an honor, but I wish I wasn’t here.”

Turning to the Israel-Diaspora relationship, Finkelstein said ties between Israel and Jews overseas needed to be strengthened – but remained intact despite their differences.

“I think there definitely needs to be more connection, more that brings us together. There’s an ocean that divides us, but we’re one Jewish people, and we need to be much more connected. I’m proud to be here today to represent the Diaspora.”

Morris Kahn, who will be lightning a torch jointly with Kfir Damari, represents SpaceIL, the company which produced the first Israeli spacecraft, which was launched in February and reached the Moon in April.

While the mission ultimately failed to land the spacecraft, dubbed “Beresheet” on the surface of the moon, the mission made Israel one of only seven nations to successfully achieve orbit around the moon.

Aviv Alush, who is slated to serve as master of ceremonies at the torch lightning event, called Kahn the “living spirit” of the SpaceIL project, which he noted already inspired a generation of students to explore science and engineering.

“The primary donor, president, and living spirit of the SpaceIL project, the startup which did the impossible and brought an Israeli spacecraft to the moon.”

“Even if the landing was a bit too ‘direct’,” continued Alush, “the project managed to draw a million students to engineering and science.”