July 17, 2019

Israeli Culture, Food and Music at Celebrate Israel Festival

Ben Al Tavori, from Israeli pop duo Static and Ben El, performs at the 2018 Celebrate Israel Festival. Photo by Abraham Joseph Pal

Although Israel’s 71st anniversary officially was May 9, you can still celebrate all things Israel this Sunday, May 19, at the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) annual Celebrate Israel Festival at the Cheviot Hills Park and Recreation Center in Rancho Park on the Westside.

The festival, now in its eighth year under the IAC, will feature a concert headlined by Sephardic Israeli musician Lior Narkis; selfie stations where festivalgoers can flaunt Instagram-worthy photos in front of massive backdrops of some of Israel’s most popular tourist sites; a maze called “Heroes: Jewish Trailblazers Experience,” recognizing Jewish contributions to the arts, technology, sports and politics; children’s music; hands-on art activities and more.

In short, people young and old, hip and square, will have plenty to keep them busy from the time the gates open at noon until the festival’s closing at 7 p.m.

“We were incredibly lucky to grow up in a place like Israel — surrounded by our history, our heritage and a rich and diverse culture,” festival chair Naty Saidoff said in a statement. “Now that we live here, we want our fellow Americans who have embraced us so warmly to share in the experience of all the beauty that is the modern-day miracle called Israel. This one-day festival is the closest you can come to truly being there.”

The theme of this year’s gathering is “The Israeli Spirit,” recognizing the unique, positive attitude Israelis exhibit every day, festival producer Adee Drory told the Journal. 

“We wanted to bring the Israeli spirit to the festival,” she said. “That is the direction we went with this year.”

Actor Mike Burstyn is slated to appear as is Mayor Eric Garcetti, along with elected officials and community leaders. The Tiger Squadron, a precision formation flying and aircraft display team, will open the official ceremony featuring Garcetti, Burstyn and other local dignitaries at 4 p.m. 

“Now that we live here, we want our fellow Americans who have embraced us so warmly to share in the experience of all the beauty that is the modern-day miracle called Israel.” — Naty Saidoff

Garcetti’s appearance comes on the heels of a weeklong trip to Israel for U.S. mayors supported by Saidoff’s wife, Debbie, through the American Jewish Committee program Project Interchange.

The annual Israel Solidarity Walk, organized by pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, will gather at 10:30 a.m. at the entrance to the festival. The mile-long walk to the nearby Simon Wiesenthal Center and back will begin at 11 a.m. 

“It’s a beautiful gathering and an easy walk for people of all ages who want to express their Zionism,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in an email. “It helps instill a love for Israel and creates joyous memories for participants and is a perfect way to kick off the day.”

Early risers can join the Israeli Cycling Academy for an 8 a.m. ride to Malibu from the park, which will return in time for the solidarity march. Saidoff, an amateur cyclist who has competed in the Maccabiah Games, told the Journal he is looking forward to cycling with the Israeli team and then walking in the march.

“We also are going to be joined by the Israeli motorcycle team,” Saidoff said of the march. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be really a special event this year.”

Inside the festival, there will be a variety of kosher food, and shoppers can browse a large market selling art, jewelry, Judaica, home goods and gifts. Five-foot hamsas made of wood will decorate the grounds, designed in participation with nearly 40 area schools. 

With the community on higher security alert after the recent Poway shooting, IAC co-founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet said the festival organizers have taken extra measures to ensure the safety of festival attendees.

“The Israeli-American Council has always taken security extremely seriously at our Celebrate Israel festivals in Los Angeles and throughout the country,” Nicolet said. “We will continue to do so by investing heavily in a wide range of security measures and working closely with law enforcement. We are committed to ensuring that everyone who joins us to support and celebrate Israel can do so freely and without concerns about their safety.”

The Saidoffs are the largest contributors to the festival, underwriting much of its more than $750,000 organizing costs in order to keep ticket prices affordable. Advance ticket purchases work on a sliding scale, costing $10 to $20 depending on when they are purchased. Tickets at the door are $30.

Of their financial contribution to the festival, Saidoff said, “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.” 

A Q&A with Naty Saidoff discussing the festival and other topics can be found on page 62. 

The Celebrate Israel Festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at Rancho Park, 2551 Motor Ave. For tickets, parking instructions and additional information, click here.