Pittsburgh celebrated Israel at 70 with dance, study, games — and food
Yom Ha'atzmautLocal groups hosted elaborate productions for Israel's 70th

Pittsburgh celebrated Israel at 70 with dance, study, games — and food

From Israeli food and wine tastings to competing to make the best mini Western Wall from Legos, the Pittsburgh community pulled out all the stops to celebrate Israel's 70th year.

For the Israel at 70 celebration at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, attendees of all ages had the opportunity to help complete a community mural by Daniel Cascardo. (Photo by Josh Franzos)
For the Israel at 70 celebration at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, attendees of all ages had the opportunity to help complete a community mural by Daniel Cascardo. (Photo by Josh Franzos)

Tricia Burkett was one of almost 200 revelers at the South Hills Jewish Community Center on April 16, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel. But although she was enjoying the festivities, Burkett couldn’t help but think of where she would be just three days later: in Jerusalem, marking Yom Ha’atzmaut in the Jewish state.

Burkett would be spending a few days in Jerusalem before heading to Karmiel/Misgav along with other volunteers on a Partnership2Gether mission with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

“I’m leaving for Israel early tomorrow morning,” said Burkett, the music of the South Hills Shalom Singers providing the perfect soundscape to the celebration. “I feel so honored to be going. I’m going to be packing soldiers’ backpacks, gardening and working in a special needs community. To me, that is the best vacation I could have.”

A father and son proudly wave Israeli flags during the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration at the JCC in Squirrel Hill. (Photo by Josh Franzos)
Pittsburgh’s Scott Township is half a world away from Israel, but that didn’t stand in the way of the South Hills Jewish community celebrating Israel at 70 in a big way. The JCC was alive with Israeli-themed crafts, a Ga-ga tournament, face painting, a South Hills PJ Library Israel Walk, and performances by Israeli dancers from the Karmiel/Misgav partner region.

Of course, there was also plenty of complimentary Israeli food and an Israeli wine tasting, courtesy of Pinskers Books and Judaica.

“All age groups are here,” noted Rob Goodman, director of South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh, one of the sponsors of the event. “There are families, empty-nesters. Food always helps.”

The South Hills celebration was just one of many ways that Pittsburgh celebrated Israel’s independence. Day schools had special activities, including a full-school Yom Ha’atzmaut flagpole ceremony at Community Day School, followed by a performance by the Karmiel dancers. At Hillel Academy, children competed in a “Mini Israel” contest, creating models of historic Israeli structures and landscapes, including a Lego Western Wall, a model Beit Hamikdash, and a pretty inviting Dead Sea in a shoe box.

Lead singers of ISRABAND, an Israeli cover band, siblings Omri and Sheli Glickman, provided a high-energy set of authentic Israeli hits at the JCC community celebration. (Photo by Josh Franzos)
The Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh had a whole week of “Israel at 70” activities for its students, organized by its Jewish Agency shlicha, Elina Lipov, and the student leaders of Panthers for Israel, according to Danielle Kranjec, senior Jewish educator at Hillel JUC. Those activities included a free “Taste of Israel” at the beginning of the school week, offering foods “representing the many cultures of Israel,” Kranjec said.

On the following Tuesday, Hillel JUC “handed out stress relief kits featuring Israeli products, including a face mask, at Pitt as it is the last week of classes,” Kranjec added.

Wednesday saw Pitt students posting recorded memorials on Facebook in honor of Yom HaZikaron, and on Thursday, Hillel JUC handed out blue and white cupcakes at CMU. Thursday evening students attended a “Layla Lavan” party at Peter’s Pub in Oakland, “in the spirit of the Tel Aviv party of the same name,” according to Kranjec.

The festivities continued on Shabbat, with services, discussions, and a schwarma and falafel bar.

An Israeli wine-tasting was one of the featured events at the South Hills JCC celebration of Israel. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
A few area congregations had their own ways to commemorate Israel at 70.

Congregation Beth Shalom offered an evening of Israeli dance and food on April 15, including a performance by the Karmiel dancers, followed by community Israel dancing, with instruction by the Karmiel dancers as well as Judy Adelson and Cherie Maharam.

Poale Zedeck Congregation hosted former refusenik Rabbi Josef Mendelevich as its scholar-in-residence on the Shabbat prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut. (See story on p. 4.)

On April 18, Anna and Rabbi Daniel Yolkut invited the congregation to their home for a Yom Ha’atzmaut open house and kumsitz.

Israel at 70 celebrants at the JCC in Squirrel Hill paint a joint mural that will be displayed at three local Jewish institutions when complete. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
The wider community’s celebration was held on April 19 at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, where hundreds from throughout greater Pittsburgh joined to celebrate the independence of the Jewish state, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Activities included children’s games, a performance by the Karmiel dancers, cookie decorating and the “Humans of Tel Aviv” photography exhibit. Several kosher vendors provided an array of Israeli — and American — food. The Federation’s Community Relations Council provided an opportunity for celebrants to write letters of gratitude and encouragement to Israeli soldiers.

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, was pleased to see Jews of different ages, and from various denominations and locations come together to celebrate Israel.

“I think there are occasions like this when you should be part of the community,” he said. “I think this is wonderful.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

read more: