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Arms open wide to embrace everything Israel

The smell of schnitzel was in the air. The sounds of Israeli music and Hebrew were, too. But love … that remained firmly earthbound at the Celebrate Israel Festival, held May 17 at Rancho Park.
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May 21, 2015

The smell of schnitzel was in the air. The sounds of Israeli music and Hebrew were, too. But love … that remained firmly earthbound at the Celebrate Israel Festival, held May 17 at Rancho Park.

That’s where a giant, 12-foot-tall replica of the Ahava (“love” in Hebrew) sculpture from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem made a perfect spot for photos as about 14,000 people entered the festival grounds.

Sponsored by the Israeli-American Council (IAC) in honor of Israel’s 67th Independence Day, the annual gathering gave attendees a chance to express their love for all things Israel. It was a sea of blue and white, with Stars of David out in full force, and supportive T-shirts with messages such as “Israel Is Real.” 

A vendor village of booths from many community nonprofits, schools and businesses offered much to explore — not to mention free goodies. Organizations that were represented ranged from the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi to Kadima Day School to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. There were Israeli artists and locals selling jewelry, art, Judaica and other items. 

For many, though, it was all about the food, and is there a better place to find food than an Israeli festival? Festive guests satisfied their cravings with falafel, shawarma and more from a variety of glatt kosher vendors. Lines of hungry festival goers snaked back to the table area, which served as a social hub for friends and families to chat.

There were plenty of attractions for youth after their appetites were sated. Wide-eyed children crowded in front of a small stage to watch a comedy performance by Israeli children’s entertainer Dod Haim and a music performance by Naama Atal. The smiles on the children’s faces continued while they were entertained by a Puff the Magic Dragon puppet show. 

A carnival area offered families a variety of rides and games. One boy couldn’t contain his laughter as he rode a kiddie-sized mechanical bull. Bigger kids enjoyed more hair-raising rides with names such as Kamikaze and Crazy Plane.

Teens had their own area under a tent near the main stage, where they could play pingpong, billiards, air hockey and video games. Additionally, the Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) had a small soccer field where many kids had fun.

Jewish Journal columnist and radio personality Dennis Prager hosted an official ceremony, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti offered a recorded video message. The Celebrate Israel Festival closed with a performance by Israeli vocalist and former “The Voice Israel” judge Shlomi Shabat, who attracted a large crowd to watch the performance and sing along.

In addition to the IAC, the other major sponsors were Debbie and Naty Saidoff. There were more than 170 partner organizations that helped as well. 

Among those who were present, according to festival officials, were Congressman Ed Royce; Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin; Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer; L.A. City Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield, Paul Koretz, Mitchell Englander, Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge and Jose Huizar; Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel; and Les Bider, board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

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