TJH: Can you please introduce yourselves and your role in planning the Celebrate Israel Festival on Lag BaOmer May 18, 2014 at Rancho Park?
AJ Stern: First, we want to greatly thank you for providing us the opportunity to discuss the Celebrate Israel Festival organized by the Israeli American Council (IAC). I act as Chief Volunteer Advisor and Consultant for Celebrate Israel. With me are Sagi Balasha, IAC CEO; Naty Saidoff, Celebrate Israel Chairman and IAC Board member; and Adee Drory, Director of Celebrate Israel.
TJH: Can you briefly describe the main goals of the Israeli American Council (IAC) and how it relates to the Celebrate Israel Festival?
AJ Stern: The IAC’s mission is to build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community. Consistent with these goals, the Celebrate Israel Festival provides the Greater Los Angeles Jewish community an opportunity to come together as “Am Echad Lev Echad – One Nation One Heart” to demonstrate strong support and solidarity for Israel irrespective of individuals religious or political beliefs.
TJH: AJ, as an orthodox Jew, what attracted you to volunteer for the Celebrate Israel Festival?
AJ Stern: In addition to personally identifying with the goals of the festival, I really appreciated the sincere efforts made by the IAC to create a festival that is not only welcoming to the entire Jewish community, including the orthodox, but a festival that everyone will greatly enjoy.
TJH: What has the IAC done this year to help ensure that the festival is geared towards the entire community?
AJ Stern: From the beginning, our mentality has not been that this is an IAC event. Rather, this is a community-wide event. To that point, Naty hosted an event at his home around the High Holidays to gather input from various Jewish institutions. Over 100 different organizations attended from across all spectrums of the Los Angeles Jewish community. During the evening, people had the opportunity to provide input, suggestions and constructive criticism with the goal of making this year’s festival an even greater success. Since that event, the IAC has held subsequent events and has been in contact with each organization via email and phone encouraging them to actively participate in planning the event and/or promoting the event.
In addition, Naty and I have had numerous private meetings with community leaders such as Rabbi Baruch Sufrin, Head of Harkam Hillel Hebrew Academy; Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Rav and Dean of Yavneh; Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President of the OU; Rabbi Effie Goldberg, Executive Director at NCSY and JSU for the Los Angeles area; Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, Chabad and many others to seek their guidance.
TJH: What are some suggestions provided by outside organizations that the IAC incorporated into this year’s festival? Can you please provide an example of an orthodox institution helping plan the festival?
AJ Stern: Given numerous comments relating to the cost last year, we have decided to lower the ticket price to $5 each online for both adults and children (door price will be $10). Likewise, we added an Instagram exhibit where attendees can see the winners that took part of our national Tour of Israel Instagram competition. #celebrateisraelfestival and #insta_global are the hashtags to have your photos submitted. In coordination with Tamid USC, Israel’s Start Up competition winners will be showcasing their latest innovation and ideas at the festival.
Everyone agreed to make this year’s festival fully glatt kosher with each vendor under the hashgacha of either the RCC or Kehilla. With the great help of Rabbi Sufrin and the entire Hillel team, we were able to achieve this goal. In addition, the Hillel choir will perform on the main stage and participated in the mini Israel exhibit along with other organizations.
TJH: What is this year’s theme?
AJ Stern: The theme is Tour of Israel. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit various areas of Israel such as the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv, the Kotel in Jerusalem, camel rides in the Negev, Kibbutz in the Kinneret and much more. Notes left in our Kotel will be delivered to Israel by the Jerusalem Foundation. In addition, Rothchild Street artist pavilion will showcase local Jewish and Israeli artists with their creative jewelry, crafts, gifts and home décor.
TJH: What other activities are there for kids and teens?
AJ Stern: For teenagers, we’ve built a giant Israeli army obstacle course as well as rock climbing, bungee jumping and other amazing activities. For kids, we have amusement park rides, petting zoo, balloons, face painting, glitter tattoos, arts and crafts projects and so much more. There will be a special fly over on the main stage during the official ceremony.
TJH: Thank you for participating in the interview and I wish you much success with the Celebrate Israel festival.
AJ Stern: Thank you and we hope to see you and everyone else at the park on Lag Baomer May 18!