July 17, 2019

Naty Saidoff: Celebrate Israel Chairman on the ‘Woodstock’ of Yom Ha’atzmaut in L.A.

Naty Saidoff

Israeli-born real estate investor and philanthropist Naty Saidoff supports many causes, yet the one that may be closest to his pro-Israel heart is the Israeli American Council’s (IAC) Celebrate Israel Festival.

The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut festival marking Israel’s independence transforms the Cheviot Hills Park and Recreation Center in Rancho Park into an Israel-loving playground, where thousands gather to celebrate.   

As chairman of the festival, Saidoff, together with his wife, Debbie, pay for the majority of the $750,000 extravaganza that features live Israeli music, art installations, kosher food, a solidarity walk, carnival rides, community booths and more. 

Ahead of this weekend’s festival celebrating Israel’s 71st anniversary, Saidoff spoke with the Journal about why he supports the event, what people can expect from this year’s headliner, the economics of organizing the “Woodstock” of Yom Ha’atzmaut gatherings and how the festival is the ultimate expression of the Israeli-American and Jewish-American spirit. 

Jewish Journal: What does it mean to you that thousands of people turn out to Celebrate Israel every year? 

Naty Saidoff: We think that despite all the bad press [about Israel], the U.S. is more philo-Semitic than anti-Semitic. This country’s human fiber has Jewish DNA all over it. When we bring Israeli Americans and Jewish Americans to the park and many Christians who support Israel, we reinforce the truth about the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and the U.S. with this tiny strip of land called Israel. We celebrate that relationship. We revel in it. The U.S. and Israel get so much from this cooperation and coexistence and it’s time we focus on the positive.

JJ: Why do you and your wife, Debbie, support the festival each year? 

NS: We contribute money to the IAC — the vast majority of the money that is required for this event— and it was our brainchild, but everything we do is in the name of the organization. As a result, we are able to do this festival and we subsidize each ticket, depending on how many people show up. Each ticket will be subsidized to the tune of $50 per person. It does not cost $30 [per person, the cost of tickets at the door] to put on this event; it costs a heck of a lot more. It is our gift to the community, and we’re doing it out of a sense of responsibility toward Israel and our country of residence, the U.S.

JJ: Previous headliners at Celebrate Israel have included Rita and Idan Raichel. What will Sephardic singer Lior Narkis bring to this year’s festival experience?

NS: He really brings the good time with him. He really gets the crowd going. He is attractive equally to the Sephardic and to the Ashkenazi community. He is an amazing entertainer. He’s not as well-known as some others, but he is probably as good as anybody right now in Israel.

JJ: What has been your most memorable Celebrate Israel moment since the IAC launched the festival in 2012? 

NS: A couple of years ago, a week before the festival there was a forecast for rain. The day of, we came in and very few people showed up at the park. We sold very few tickets online. There were dark clouds over the horizon. And we prayed against all hope [it wasn’t] going to rain, and then it did not rain. People started showing up despite the dark clouds and we had a beautiful festival. Then at 5 o’clock, [headliner] Dudu Aharon showed up onstage and as he started to sing, we heard a cloudburst and lightning, and it started to rain, and our worst fears materialized. I’ve never seen rain like that and the more it rained the louder he sang. The more it rained, the more excited [the audience] got. They kept dancing and started jumping and singing. It was the most amazing sight we have ever seen. It was reminiscent of Woodstock.

JJ: Have you been to Israel recently?

NS: Are you kidding? Sure. I was in Israel in January and am about to go back to Israel in three weeks. I have a business in Israel and also I’m part of the board of the Shalom Hartman Institute and my wife is the head of Project Interchange [an American Jewish Committee program], which brings many dignitaries to Israel for seminars.

We just found out the mayor [Eric Garcetti] is going to be at the [festival], and he is going to be leading a trip to Israel (which started on May 11). That is our doing. That is Project Interchange, and he is going to lead a group of five mayors.

We love Israel. We are very involved with many different nonprofit organizations [supporting Israel]; it’s part of what we do. We got to go to Israel in order to reinforce the bond we have with the country.

Whoever cannot afford to go to Israel, for $30, we bring Israel to you [at the festival]. And if you rush, you can do it for $15.

The Celebrate Israel Festival takes place on May 19. For tickets and additional information about the event, click here.