Events in New York to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary kicked off with a concert at Radio City Music Hall.Israel’s 60th Independence Day may have come and gone, but in the US the merrymaking is far from over. Politicians, community organizations, synagogues, churches, sports teams, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs – you name it – are throwing parties, giving speeches, teaching classes, organizing concerts and parades, launching websites, and creating new organizations that will last throughout Israel’s entire 60th year, and beyond.
“Israel’s 60th anniversary marks six decades of US-Israeli friendship,” says Chloe Markowitz at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the central coordinating body for American Jewry, representing 50 national Jewish agencies from across the political and religious spectrum.
In addition to setting up a website to track national events, Israel60.org, and MyHatikva.com, an online platform for people to express their hopes and dreams for Israel’s future; the Conference of Presidents established a National Committee for Israel 60, co-chaired by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle, and including presidential candidates Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama.
Although support for Israel on a national political level in America is strong, most of the nation’s unofficial celebrations have steered away from politics and diplomacy in general, and instead concentrate on lesser-publicized aspects of the country’s evolution.
Most 60th celebrations across the US are put together by the 125 local Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) and 155 Jewish community federations under the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA) and United Jewish Communities (UJC), respectively. Together, the UJC and JCPA, which also serves as an umbrella for 14 other national Jewish organizations, set up a board to provide local Jewish communities with information, ideas, resources, and advice on their 60th celebrations, the Israel Advocacy Initiative (IAI).
According to Jessica Horn, a JCPA rep to the IAI, the fruit of the IAI’s labors includes a growing database of the country’s lesser-known accomplishments, in areas ranging from science and technology to medicine, and from cultural and religious diversity to sports and archeology. “How many people know that instant messaging technology was created in Israel?” she queries. “Or Wi-Fi?
“When people think of Israel, they think about what they see on the news. We wanted to give some perspective beyond that; offer up a more well-rounded and contemporary picture of Israel that includes the country’s remarkable people, its institutions, and contributions to global society,” she says. “Everyone who has been to Israel knows that life goes on beyond the conflict; not only does it go on, it continues to advance very rapidly. This is a time for celebration and there is a lot to celebrate.”
“The 60th has afforded us the opportunity to make more public what we in the Jewish community may be aware of on a day to day basis, but that friends in the non-Jewish world may not think about,” adds Michael Miller, VP of New York’s JCRC. “This is our opportunity to congratulate Israel, not only on 60 years of statehood, 60 years of remaining the sole bastion of democracy in the Middle East, but also on 60 years of progress.”
Israeli achievement and diversity comprises the central theme of all the biggest celebrations across America, among them the Chicago, IL Gala that took place on May 8; the Family Festival in Boston on June 1; the Independence Day Festival in Los Angeles on May 18; ‘A Fair to Remember’ in Detroit on August 21; the Israel 60 Parade and Festival in Philadelphia, on May 18; and ‘Israel@60: A Capital Celebration’, an unprecedented day-long event in Washington, DC’s National Mall on June 1.
The biggest celebrations in the US are taking place in New York City, where the Jewish population outnumbers that of Israel. Events run the gamut from ‘Blessings from Hollywood’s Best’, last Friday’s broadcast on four huge screens at Times Square of celebrities Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Donald Trump, and Billy Crystal, each waving banners and offering best wishes to Israel; to ‘A Homerun for Israel’, a Mets/Dodgers game to be played in honor of the 60th on May 29.
To date, the largest celebration of Israeli achievement took place at a sold-out Radio City Music Hall on May 7. One of 60@60’s 60 events across North America in honor of the anniversary, the major musical gala brought together Israeli musicians Idan Raichel Project, Achinoam Nini (Noa), Rami Kleinstein, David Broza, Habanot Nechama, and American musicians Matisyahu, Paul Shaffer, and Jonny Zorn, together on the same stage.
“Israeli music blows me away. The scene that is developing there is really remarkable. It’s evolving into a major music capital, right up there with Paris or London,” says Michael Dorf, one of 60@60’s three founding festival producers, who is also responsible for the huge party at the Kodak Theater in LA that took place on May 10, part of a week-long festival ‘Let My People Sing’, featuring 60 hours of live entertainment in and around LA.
“Our objective at 60@60 is to showcase the boundless creativity and cultural activity coming out of Israel. We are hoping to create a positive and heightened awareness of the diversity of the Israeli artistic community,” he adds.
The Consulate General of Israel in New York also held an event around Israeli music talent, featuring a line-up of Israeli techno DJs at Washington Square Park on May 8, called ‘Cool Israel’.
In addition to supporting several local 60th events like all nine Consulate Generals across the US, the Consulate in New York is hosting a few events of its own. On May 4, the Consulate launched ‘Faces of Israel’, a campaign involving the assembly of dozens of banners down Fifth Avenue, from 46th to 97th Streets, each depicting the face of a different Israeli citizen.
Among those featured are Dao Rochvarger-Wong, who was born in Vietnam and arrived in Israel as a “boat person”, and who now represents Bank HaPoalim in Singapore; and Derrick Sharp, a Florida-born basketball star who moved to Israel in 1993, and is now captain of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“The goal of this project is to introduce Israelis as they are,” says Assaf Shariv, Consul General of Israel in New York. “Millions of people will walk along Fifth Avenue during May and be exposed to these portraits that show the incredible diversity of Israeli society.”
By far the biggest 60th event in the US, is the Salute to Israel Parade, which takes place on Fifth Avenue on June 1, and will involve more than 75,000 marchers and close to a million spectators, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.
The focus of this year’s 44th annual parade is also Israeli culture and achievement. Each of the 150-odd marching groups will design their floats around a particular aspect of that theme – from Israeli medical advances, to Israeli food, to Israeli Nobel Prize-winners, to the country’s Olympic gold-medalists.
“This is not just about Israelis and not just about Jews. It’s about successes that affect that lives of many people around the world,” says Varda Priel Dabas, coordinator of marching bands and community outreach. “We hope people will come away from the parade and say wow, I really learned something new about Israel.”
“The 60th anniversary marks a special year in our history,” says David Saranga, consul for media and public affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. “Being in the US for it fills me with pride. It is overwhelming to see the friendship, the support, and the love that people have for Israel.”