East Bay begins yearlong bash with concert for Israels 50th

Baby boomers take heart. The big Five-O isn't that bad. In some circles, 50 is considered young, practically an infant.

Consider Israel.

In the eyes of the world Israel, born in 1948, is a very young country that is becoming stronger, more vital and more secure every year.

To celebrate, the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay is sponsoring "Israel at 50," a year of special events to honor Israel's history, culture and spirit.

The festivities begin with Born in Israel in concert Monday, Sept. 29, at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

"Born in Israel" includes two top Israeli talents — lyricist Ehud Manor, best known for his song "Bashanah Haba'ah," and singer-composer Hanan Yovel. The group will present a musical retrospective of Israel's history, with songs in English and Hebrew.

Manor says Israeli music is a composite of many styles, including Russian and Yemenite influences, and that American music has had a great impact on his work. While most Israeli music talks about "we," what appealed to him about American music was its use of the word "I."

Manor used to sing along with American tunes in English, but because he was embarrassed about his Israeli accent, he started using Hebrew words instead. From there it was a short step to songwriting.

A major contributor to popular Israeli music — three years ago Manor received a lifetime achievement award in Israel — Manor will discuss its development at the concert.

"Songs reflect the modern history of Israel," he says. Although Manor considers much of his work to be personal, it also reflects what is going on in Israel. His song "My Kid Brother," for example, documents a personal loss — his brother's death — as well as a national event, the War of Attrition.

The concert's organizer, Israeli-born Efi Lubliner, describes the music of Born in Israel as very melodic in a light pop and folk style.

Israeli Consul General Daniel Shek will be on hand to inaugurate the yearlong celebration.

Riva Gambert, cultural associate of the federation's Israel Center, hopes the concert will start people thinking about their connection to Israel.

"This is sort of a musical push for people to remember not to take Israel for granted," says Gambert, adding that the younger generation often is unaware of events — like Entebbe or the Six-Day War — that helped shape Israel.

"The things we as adults have as part of our fabric, our Jewish heritage, are not known to [the younger generation] until they go on an organized trip to Israel."

Gambert urges people to strengthen their connection to Israel — whether by reading a book about Israel, visiting one of the exhibits at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley or taking a course on Israel at Berkeley's Lehrhaus Judaica, or attending one or more of the federation events.

On Sunday, Nov. 9, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president emeritus of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, will discuss Israeli-American Jewish relations during the past 50 years.

In January and February, Israeli films will be featured during the Contra Costa Jewish Film Festival at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek and at Temple Sinai in Oakland. The Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley will exhibit Israeli art and memorabilia.

Later in 1998, the East Bay federation's Israel Center will create a version of Dizengoff Street, the upscale Tel Aviv street known for its cafes and people-watching opportunities.

Helen Loewenstein, an organizer of the festivities, is particularly excited about the Israel Book Club where local rabbis, authors and others will discuss writings about Israel at talks throughout the East Bay.

On May 17 the Virtual Israel Festival will recap the growth of Israel from a developing nation to its present status as a high-tech, cosmopolitan country.

"We've struggled for 50 years to have a homeland," says Loewenstein. "We will always have problems with politics and peace but we still need to celebrate the fact that Israel is our homeland."