September 20, 2018

Celebrate Israel Festival seeks to engage, expand partnerships

With a precision flyover, a Moroccan henna party, a fairy hunt, an exhibition honoring 75 years of Bob Dylan and officials paying tribute to the Jewish state, the annual Yom HaAtzmaut Celebrate Israel Los Angeles festival is set to take place this Sunday at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center (Rancho Park).  

The Israeli American Council (IAC), organizer of the annual event, hopes to draw a crowd of more than 10,000 to the festival, which features live Israeli music for all ages, including a kids stage, kids activities, a 21-and-older bar that will be sponsored by various young professionals’ organizations throughout the day and more, all in celebration of Israel’s 68th birthday. 

“I think the strongest message right now when BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is happening in Europe is we need to show in America it’s different and we carry the Israeli flag with pride as Jews,” IAC Regional Director Erez Goldman said in a phone interview.

This year’s festival also features pavilions celebrating the Jewish people’s connections to Ethiopia, Morocco and Eastern Europe, a world marketplace, kosher food and more. 

More than 75 local organizations and businesses, including the Jewish Journal, will be represented with booths at the festival. There also will be 25 artists’ booths, 13 food vendors, all kosher, and a variety of pavilions, including one for Magen David Adom, where a blood drive will be held to support Bikur Cholim.

All this hasn’t come easy: The IAC spends approximately $700,000 to produce the festival, including for high-level security, marketing and equipment rentals, according to Dikla Kadosh, senior director of the IAC community center and events.

The Los Angeles office of the IAC, which oversees nine regional offices, is spending $100,000 of its annual $3 million Los Angeles budget on the festival. Philanthropists Naty and Debbie Saidoff, as well as corporate sponsors, vendors and ticket sales make up most of the difference. Tickets cost $10 online and $15 at the festival (cash will not be accepted for admission at the door).

A Salute to Israel Walk organized by StandWithUs precedes a previous Israeli American Council Celebrate Israel festival. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

This year marks the fifth consecutive year the IAC has held its Celebrate Israel festival in West Los Angeles. The IAC took the reins of the festival in 2012 after financial concerns by the previous organizer, which held the celebration in the San Fernando Valley, caused it to be canceled in 2011. The Saidoffs have been instrumental in bringing the festival to the Westside and keeping it an annual event.

Goldman, for his part, said he hopes the organization can spend less than $700,000 on the festival in future years. He hopes other organizations will become more involved partners in making the festival possible. 

“I think more organizations definitely need to take part in Celebrate Israel,” he said. 

The theme of this year’s festival is “Israel: A Mosaic of Jewish Cultures.”

The mainstage musical headliner is Israeli-Iranian singer Rita, a veteran performer known for singing in Hebrew, English and Farsi. Goldman said he expects her performance to be a “big production.”

Other entertainment includes Lokchim et Hazman (“Taking Your Time”), which includes Roni Dalumi, the 2009 winner of Israel’s version of “American Idol,” along with Israeli performer Lee Biran and Israeli actress Eliana Tidhar. Goldman described the act as the “hottest family show going on … they play a string of Israeli music from all of Israel’s history. They do it in a cool way. Someone who is 45 years old can enjoy it with their kid who is 15 years old.”

If the goal is to appeal to as large a demographic as possible, Goldman believes they’ve achieved that.

“I think we were able to, kind of music-wise and culture-wise, create the biggest tent we can have,” Goldman said. “I think we were successful in that.”

The IAC, which was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles as a resource for empowering and organizing the Israeli-American community here — the largest Israeli community in the United States — has grown to become a national organization through significant support from philanthropist and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in recent years. The IAC’s Los Angeles office continues to serve as its headquarters, even as offices open in eight more cities outside of L.A. IAC Celebrate Israel festivals are also taking place this month in Boston, Florida, New Jersey, Las Vegas and New York, among other locations.

Goldman, an American-born Jew who made aliyah to Israel, served in the Israel Defense Forces and has been running the regional office of the IAC for the past seven months. He said he plans to attend the festival with his children and his parents. 

“My perfect picture would be a father with a kid on his shoulders,” he said, “and they’re both enjoying the music.”

The annual festival begins at 11 a.m. and concludes at 6 p.m., with an official Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony at 3:15 p.m. For more information, visit celebrateisraelfestival.com.