Seventieth birthday bashes are usually a big deal.
When it came to recognizing Israel’s 70th, the Westchester Jewish community made sure it was a very big deal.
“This is the largest celebration of Israel in Westchester,” said Lisa Roberts, president of the Westchester Jewish Council, which coordinated Sunday’s event. “Today is a day to celebrate Israel and celebrate the bonds that unite us. Today’s festival is a reflection of the unity and collaboration in our community.”
Undeterred by an unseasonably bleak, chilly mid-April day, more than 3,200 visitors showed up at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester’s Hartsdale campus for a wide-ranging set of activities reflecting contemporary Israel. There was serious stuff, with presentations and discussions with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, as well as plenty of opportunities to eat falafel, taste Israeli wines, learn how to cook shakshuka, babaganoush and hummus, listen to a variety of musical performances, watch short films and attend a variety of workshops and lectures.
“We came for a lot of things,” said Yossi Pollak of White Plains, who was there with his wife, Brooke, and fourth-grade daughter, Nava. “We came to support Israel, for the activities, for the ice cream and falafel, and [for] supporting Israel’s 70th birthday.”
There were Israeli dance performances, a krav maga session, hands-on art projects and several participatory programs for young children and families. There was even a mitzvah opportunity, courtesy of a baby blanket knit-in to benefit Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. A variety of Israeli vendors took over the high school gymnasium as the “Machane Yehuda” shuk, with a selection of Israeli products and services.
The opening ceremony’s speeches by various politicians and leaders in the New York and Westchester Jewish communities, including Dani Dayan, consul general of Israel in New York, stayed on message about the connections between the American Jewish community and Israel.
“Even with oceans separating us, we stay like mishpocha, we stay like family, we will stay like that forever,” said Dayan.
For many attendees, demonstrating support for Israel was part of the motivation to show up.
“I just think that every five years all stripes of Jews can come out and get behind Israel,” said Ron Burton of New Rochelle, a past president of the Westchester Jewish Council. “This is that in action.”