On Sunday, May 13th, L.A.’s Israel Independence Day festival was celebrated in Rancho Park. Many exciting activities enhanced the day. There were also abundant opportunities to do chessed and enjoy food from glatt kosher vendors.
The festival began with marchers from local Jewish schools singing songs around the corner from the park, in front of the Museum of Tolerance. Once inside the park, celebrants could attend a siyum led by YULA and Shalhevet students in the Torah Pavilion, daven minchah, and learn about mishnayos pertaining to Eretz Yisrael with Bnei Akiva.
Bikur Cholim partnered with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (assisted by Friends of Magen David Adom) to hold a blood drive. They also teamed up with City of Hope’s “Be A Match” program to sign up anyone interested in becoming part of the bone marrow registry.
Rabbi Heshy Ten, President of Bikur Cholim, explained, “We want to celebrate Israel by doing a mitzvah. It’s a tremendous kiddush Hashem. And it’s something quantifiable, doing something for the greater good while recognizing the independence of the state of Israel.”
Kosher food selections included hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, chicken, falafel, containers of fruit, corn on the cob, and more. One of the tens of vendors, Sadaf, unveiled a new line of products that will soon be available in stores, including saffron and many types of healthy oil cooking sprays such as grapeseed. Maimon’s from Israel displayed an array of products for bakers, as well.
Among the other participants were Friends of the IDF, Americans For A Safe Israel (represented by President and Mayoral candidate, YJ Draiman), Hatzolah, the Board of Jewish Education, Nefesh B’Nefesh, and Jerusalem U.
Rabbi Yellin, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Jerusalem U, explained that the organization uses film to bring awareness of Israeli issues, distributing them through the internet, social media, television, and in partnership with synagogues, schools and Jewish organizations. The films they have produced include “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front,” “Crossing the Line” (about Anti-Semitism on campus), and their newest, “Mekonen: the Journey of an African Jew.”
Another fascinating exhibit displayed the Sussita Project. According to Shlomo Fattal, who founded this project, many companies chose to avoid selling to Israel after financial and political pressure from Muslim nations long before the BDS movement. Due to the Arab embargo, Itzhak Shubinsky began Autocars in the 1950s. It was Israel’s first car manufacturer. His goal was to import cars to the United States.
The company lasted two and a half decades. Three hundred and seventy five cars were built. Belgium has the largest amount remaining, while only a few rare Sabras remain in the United States. At the festival were two examples, the Sabra Station Wagon (the only one known to exist) and the Sussita FW2. To connect with this project, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/TheSussitaProject/
On the main stage, Broadway and Yiddish theatre veteran Mike Burstyn was the MC. He introduced the Machol Lohet Dance Troup, The Jewish Children’s Community Children’s Choir with guest cantors Nati Baram and Marcus Feldman, rapper DJ Gilad, DJ Aviel, and DJ River, and the main performer Rita, a native Persian, now a popular singer in Israel. At one point during the performances, there was an impressive flyover by the Tiger Squadron.
Several speakers also took the stage. Miri Shepher – the co-creator of Life Alert – gave a powerful speech. She said, “We love Israel am echad, lev echad.”
Mrs. Shepher, the philanthropist behind the IAC Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills, continued, “Our next generation is losing their connection with Judaism, and that’s why being here is more important than ever before.” She then praised Consul General David Siegal. Saying his departure is bittersweet, she hoped LA would be his home away from home.
Consul General Siegal asked if anyone could have imagined we would go from near annihilation to a sovereign nation.
Nati and Debbie Saidoff are the chief contributors to IAC, without which the festival would not be possible. Nati is also an IAC board member. When called to the mic, Nati said, “Yes to love, no to Anti-Semitism. Yes to inclusion, no to boycott.” He added that not enough people know the truth about the Middle East. He introduced State Assembly members Richard Bloom and Travis Allen, who are taking an anti-BDS bill to the State Assembly which states that California will not do business with any company that supports the BDS.