By Jacqueline Monahan
Israel is 62 and shows no signs of retiring anytime soon. Not even close. An Independence Day Celebration was held at the Venetian on Sunday, April 25 to commemorate the nation’s “birth” via the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.
Even though the Jewish calendar is the oldest on record (more ancient than the Egyptians) and this is their year 5770, Israel has officially existed as a nation for just over six decades.
The culture, however, spans centuries and carries with it a rich heritage of tradition. This was apparent upon entry to the exhibit hall, where visitors were given a small Israeli flag and a blue tote bag with the words I “Heart” (graphic) Israel. Volunteers wore a lighter blue T-shirt version of this as they guided the crowd to the various booths representing all manner of organization, activity, information, and education.
You say you want social services? The Jewish Family Service Agency offers adoption/volunteer/counseling/bereavement group/food pantry. There’s even holocaust survivor assistance for those who need it.
You say you want to read? Publications represented included the Las Vegas Israelite, David Magazine, Shalom Magazine and The Torch, notable because it is published by a group called Christians United for Israel.
You say you’re dead? Kraft & Sussman funeral services ensure “freedom from dreying your Yiddosher Kop” or worrying your smart head when the time for a proper Jewish burial arrives. For those in need of financial advice, Rosen Real Estate and Investments were on hand, along with the Amidex 35 Israeli Mutual Fund.
Israel is a congregation nation and there to represent were Congregation Ner Tamid, who gave out Star of David key chains, and Temple Sinai with its basket of logo-inscribed staple removers. Valley Outreach Synagogue P’Nai Tikvah, featuring the female Rabbi Mintz, invited attendees to visit and join them for a myriad of upcoming activities.
Don’t think arts and crafts were ignored. Stained glass, pottery, jewelry and handmade aprons and t-shirts could all be found in colorful displays. The Muriel Alon clay rabbi figures were especially appealing, as were the Sababa (literally meaning Cool!) apparel.
On the education front, the Solomon Schechter Day School (for children) passed out filled pencil bags, including eraser, highlighter, and gum. Touro University had a booth, along with Technion Israel Institute of Technology, whose folded, poster-sized brochure documented some of that institution’s impressive accomplishments; manufactured diamonds launched into space, revolutionary stem cell research, and an electric car battery made of sand.
A children’s area featured a passport that the kids could get stamped as they made a flag, got their face painted, completed a carnival game, got a caricature drawn, participated in a giant map activity, or placed a prayer in the Wailing Wall (popular requests were for “Mashiach” or salvation, and peace for Israel). Super Flag of Israel Man (my words) was on hand to oversee the proceedings.
Young Israeli Aish (passion for one’s heritage) Las Vegas presented visitors with a CD of children’s acapella music – exclusively voice and hand sounds, entitled: Got Jewish? The Jewish Committee on Scouting (Boy and Girl Scouts of America) listed religious awards that could be earned by participating youth.
What’s a celebration without food? Smith’s had a booth featuring their line of kosher offerings. Those wishing to nosh on falafel, pizza, challah, Chinese entrees and a large assortment of soups and marinades won’t be disappointed. Yes, there’s also a selection of wine. Could there be a celebration without it?
And speaking of celebration, entertainment and music was provided by various youth choirs, an accordion virtuoso, Menashe Glazer, and Jewish Jammin’, a klezmer band incorporating violin, clarinet, and accordion. The acts had their own large stage set up in a spacious hall and played continuously throughout the day.
Rumor had it that our own Channel Five’s Jason Feinberg was on hand to MC some of the activities, but your humble correspondent was not able to verify his appearance as I wandered the aisles in search of a mitzvah.
Many of you might be used to hearing that word with a “bar” or “bat” in front of it, but it is a powerful word in its own right. Meaning religious duty or good deed or act of kindness, it is one of the foundations of Jewish culture, built into the consciousness of everyday life.
Aside from Chabad, (Hebrew acronym for the three intellectual faculties of: chachmah-wisdom, binah-comprehension and da'at-knowledge - a system of Jewish religious philosophy) a booth specifically dedicated to the mitzvah, there were numerous organizations whose entire mission is a dedication to good deeds.
The Blue Chai Bears CHAI stands for Concern for Helping Animals in Israel. American Red Magen David for Israel (ARMDI) is a first aid/relief organization similar to the American Red Cross. VFI - Volunteers for Israel offers participants an Israel adventure which they serve in Israel to relieve critical manpower shortages. The ADL, or Anti-Defamation League is the civil rights/human relations agency founded in 1913; their latest campaign is stopping hate whether at school, work, or in the community.
Sponsored by the Adelson Family Foundation, The Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, The Venetian Las Vegas, The Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada, Touro University Nevada, and Freeman (convention and exposition services) the event, just like the nation, has grown and flourished.
Bordered by Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, the tiny democracy of Israel has prospered despite war, terror attacks, and ethnic and religious conflicts. Not bad for a senior citizen bearing ancient wisdom, promoting mitzvahs and celebrating the greatest triumph of all: survival.
How's that for chutzpah?