By Stacey Dresner
WESTERN MASS. – The state of Israel is about to turn 70, and Jewish organizations across the Pioneer Valley are set to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Several Israel@70 events are scheduled around the community, thanks to the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts’ Israel@70 Committee and sponsored by the Anna P. Housen Fund of the Jewish Endowment Foundation.
Ronda Parish, president of the Jewish Federation, expressed her pride in the collaborative effort of the community to provide such a rich and varied series of events.
“We’ve captured so many aspects of Israel – speakers, music, family programs, PJ library, the JCC fabulous film series, there’s something for everybody,” Paris said. “What a celebration!”
The festivities kick off with “Framing Israel,” the curated screening of five Israeli films that are a part of the larger 13th Annual Pioneer Valley Film Festival of the Springfield Jewish Community Center. The films, which shine a spotlight on contemporary Israeli cinema, begin on March 17 with “Shelter,” an espionage thriller to be shown at 8 p.m. at Longmeadow High School.
Two films will be screened at the Springfield JCC on Sunday, March 18. “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” which won Israel’s Academy Award for Best Documentary of the Year, will be shown at 11 a.m., and “The Settlers,” an up-close and personal look at Jewish settlers in the West Bank, will be presented at 2 p.m.
“Scaffolding,” an Israeli drama and winner of Best Israeli Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, will be screened on Sunday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at Amherst Cinema; while “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem,” shows Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza jamming with Palestinian musicians in an effort to promote peace and co-existence. That film will be shown at Westfield State University at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 19.
Each film is sponsored by the Anna P. Housen fund. More information about the film festival can be found at pvjff.org.
From April 13-15, Western Massachusetts will host Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Together with Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University, he co-directs the Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative.
Halevi is the author of Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, described by the New York Times as a “book of burning importance,” At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jews Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land, and Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. His fourth book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, will be released in May.
“We feel especially fortunate that such a prominent and award-winning author and perceptive commentator will be our scholar-in-residence for Israel@70”, said Sydney Perry, interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. “He has captured the very soul of Israel in his first three books. I can’t wait to hear him speak about his newest book, Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, an attempt to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.”
On Friday, April 13, Halevi will speak at Sinai Temple in Springfield at 7:30 p.m., following a small reception at 6 p.m. and services 6:30 p.m.
On Saturday, April 14, kiddush at Temple Beth El at 1 p.m. will feature Halevi’s talk, “Letters to My Palestinian Friends.”
Halevi will speak at Jewish Community of Amherst on Sunday, April 15 at 10 a.m.
Families with young children will also share in the Israel@70 celebration.
On Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m., PJ Library at JGS: Lifecare will bring families together with JGS residents for an afternoon of Israel themed crafts, storytelling and a birthday cake for Israel.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, April 22, students at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton will hold a day long Israel @70 celebration that is not open to the public.
The students will participate in an archaeological dig and create mosaics; participate in a “kumzitz,” a traditional Israeli gathering around a campfire to sing traditional Israeli songs; and cook traditional Israeli food with local chef John Grossman. In addition, they will serve birthday cake that has been decorated by the students to look like the map of Israel, share presentations created by students about Israel, and end the day with additional singing.
“We are honored to have received the support of the Anna P. Housen grant, and we are thrilled to partner with Gan Keshet and ALMA on a special Yom Ha’ Atzmaut celebration,” said LGA Executive Director Ellen Frank. “Holyoke Hummus Company will do a cooking activity with the students, and Bianca Cuperman will cater an Israeli lunch. Add in an art project, music, and dancing, and it promises to be a memorable day for our students.”
Both Holyoke synagogues will come together to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday on Sunday, April 22.
Congregations Sons of Zion and Rodphey Sholom will hold a Round Table with four guest speakers with personal reflections on Israel’s milestones: a Sabra who was a child in 1948 and experienced the birth of the country; an American in Israel in 1967 just after the Six Day War; an Israeli who was a soldier in 1973; and an Israeli in their 20s, presently living and working in the United States. An Israeli buffet will follow the program.
“We have the hope of presenting a series of reflections on life in Israel at various times up to the present day to give people a picture of a vibrant country in motion,” said Joan Rosner, president of Sons of Zion. “They are calling it the 70th birthday. I think that is an interesting way to look at it…we are celebrating a birthday – a birthday that many people didn’t think 70 years ago would ever happen.”
On Sunday, April 22, the Springfield JCC will hold a community Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, including a concert featuring musician Sheldon Low.
Low’s grandfather was a member of the Hagganah and founder of Kibbutz Tel Yosef. Low will perform wit his wife, Hadar Orshalimy, who studied at the Rimon School of Music in Tel Aviv.
“We look forward to sharing some of the stories behind some of the most iconic Israeli songs, and fully hope and expect to be singing together with the entire community as we celebrate,” Low said.
The family-friendly celebration will include activites at 3 p.m., with kosher food available for purchase. The event is free and open to the entire community.
“Israel is a beacon of the Jewish world and celebrating Israel’s rebirth as a contemporary nation is a celebration of the vibrancy of contemporary Jewish life,” said the Rabbi James Greene, assistant executive director of the Springfield JCC. “We can’t wait to welcome people of all ages from the community to the JCC to celebrate Israeli culture, music, food, and dance! Israel is a homeland for every Jew and there will be something for everyone at this celebration.”
On April 29, UMass Hillel, will celebrate Israel’s 70 years with Israel Story’s live show “Mixtape – The Stories behind Israel’s Ultimate Playlist.” The show will take place at 7 p.m. in room N151 in the Integrative Learning Center at UMass Amherst. Pre-registration required. Visit umasshillel.org/israelstory.
“From the extraordinary rebirth of the Jewish State 70 years ago, and every day since, we have worried over Israel’s wars and times of existential danger, celebrated her many extraordinary achievements, quarreled over some of the growing pains of the nascent democracy in a ‘difficult’ neighborhood and committed ourselves to bridging any divides between American Jewry and Israel,” Perry said. “The 70th anniversary allows us to recognize how blessed we are to live in a time when the prayers of 2000 years are fulfilled. With grateful appreciation to the Anna Housen Fund of the Jewish Foundation for its financial support of a remarkable number of programs, to our host synagogues and UMass Hillel, to LGA and PJ Library, to our JCC and their superb film festival, spread throughout our catchment, and all the volunteers and staff who make Israel@70 possible, todah rabbah! Now is the time to come together, to learn together, to sing together, to dance together. L’chaim!”