December 8, 2019

L.A. Celebrates Israel’s 71st Independence Day

Photos by Melissa Simon

Despite showers and gray skies, close to 15,000 people showed up at Cheviot Hills Park and Recreation Center in Rancho Park on May 19 to take part in the Israeli-American Council (IAC)’s eighth annual Celebrate Israel Festival.

From the little kids screaming on the dragon roller coaster to the tweens flying around in circles on the amusement swing ride, and from the elders enthusiastically spinning and clapping as they replicated the moves of an Israeli folk dancing teacher to the parents participating in the mega challah bake, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Luna Kaduri, the leader of the challah bake, began her step-by-step bread-braiding tutorial by giving a speech about the need for more compassion in today’s society. “The best missile that we can give to all the ones who hate us is unconditional love,” she said.

Celebrating this year’s theme, “The Israeli Spirit,” many people were dressed in blue and white, wearing Israeli flag headbands and scarves, tattooing their faces with blue Stars of David, and proudly waving both Israeli and American flags. 

“My favorite thing about Israel is its birthday because it’s really fun and I get to be with Israeli people,” 9-year-old Mia, wearing a headband with the Israeli flag, told the Journal.

Two young girls attended the festival to show their love for Israel by dressing up in blue and white colors and decorating their faces with Israeli flag tattoos.

There were long lines at the falafel and shawarma stands, and the Tel Aviv Gordon Beach replica was packed with small children playing in the sand and tossing oversized beach balls back and forth. Middle schoolers and teenagers painted ceramic tiles at the art booth, while others sang along to the loud live music performances on the main stage. 

“My favorite part about the festival was the overall sense of community in the crowd while the artists were performing,” UCLA student Nicole Tishbi said. “Although I didn’t know everyone in the crowd, I felt like we were all one big family having an amazing time cheering for Israel together.”

The Celebrate Israel Festival helps “to strengthen the Jewish American community and the relationship between the people of Israel and the people of the United States,” IAC Chairman Emeritus Shawn Evenhaim told the Journal at the festival.  

“Despite everyone’s busy schedules and obligations, there were so many people there for all the same reason — to support Israel,” UCLA student Shanna Gilardi said. “It’s important to me to attend the festival because I want to show that the younger generation supports Israel.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.