Klezmer, Israeli characters star at South Bays 50th celebration

Under cool gray skies in Los Gatos, about 1,500 people came together Sunday to salute Israel's 50th anniversary at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose.

The klezmer band Hoo Tza Tza performed, along with a number of children's choirs and dance groups.

A moving Yom HaAtzmaut celebration ceremony featured the passing of light from candle to candle, honoring Israel and its "four wars and countless sacrifices."

Judy Levin, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, lit a candle to recognize the thousands of soldiers and civilians who gave their lives that Israel might survive.

Rivkah Shenhav, president of Congregation Beth David, lit hers in honor of the Israel Defense Force. Don Fernandez, president of Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center, lit his candle to assure peace and security of Israel and the rest of the world. Dalia Maydan dedicated her candle to supporting immigration and forging good relations between Israel and Jews throughout the world. And Al Frank called for continued development of culture, technology, science and agriculture within Israel.

Following the ceremony, Steve Guggenheim led the audience in singing "Jerusalem of Gold."

Scattered among the crowd, costumed volunteers portrayed the heroes of Israel's past: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his son Ittamar were represented by Lou Witkin and his grandson Brandon Glajchen. Witkin delivered a synopsis of Ben-Yehuda's contribution in making Hebrew the living language of Israel — while "Ittamar" tugged at his hand, impatiently awaiting his turn on the event's giant inflatable slide.

Renée Fine as Henrietta Szold recounted the life of the founder of Hadassah — the pivotal Zionist organization now 350,000 strong worldwide. Miriam Marr had the chance to represent Golda Meir, whom she had always admired

There were plenty of reminiscences of Israel's joyous and stormy birth: "I was a teenager in New York," Judy Shernock recalled. "We went to Broadway with a Jewish flag and held it up — people were throwing in $5 and $10 bills. A spontaneous hora broke out. We were so proud to be Jews in the middle of Broadway."

Dalia Milgram said that as a little girl in Jerusalem she watched her mother stand in line for food and water. "I remember the sirens every night."

Tamar Jacobs was a member of Magen David Adem (the Jewish Red Cross). Born in Germany, she remembered that after the partition, "we danced all night in the streets" of Tel Aviv. Later she served in the Israeli Air Force.

Israeli President "Ezer Weizman was commander of my camp. I was the cultural officer. With only about a half-million Jews in the whole country at that time, we were like a family. We knew one another. Every day there were notices in the newspaper telling who had been killed. I remember the boys from my class who died — they had been so young, the most promising.

"I had served at Yad Mordechai Kibbutz, which was conquered by the Egyptians. It was horrible, many of my friends were wounded and killed. I also had a lot of friends in the Haganah. My mother wouldn't let me join, though, because I was an only child. Throughout that time we lived from day to day — but we didn't doubt that Israel would survive."

The site of the daylong commemoration was adorned with posters of "The Many Faces of Israel" from Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos. Stained glass scenes were contributed by the students of Eitz Chaim Academy of San Jose. A topographical map of Israel had been created by Congregation Beth David in Saratoga.

Entertainment included the Shir Hadash Children's Choir, the children's choir and dancers from Congregation Beth David, the Yavneh Day School Choir of Los Gatos and the Almaden Music School Dancers of San Jose.

A children's stage entertained kids with continuous performances by such luminaries as Rainbow the Clown, Bob Taxin the Magician, ventriloquist Steve Chaney, Erica the Storyteller and Mr. Miraculous the Juggler.

The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, the United Way of Santa Clara County, Applied Materials, the Metro newspaper and the Addison-Penzak JCC.