Celebrating Israeli independence around the Bay

With activities throughout the region, the Bay Area celebrates Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, with music, dance, art, films and speakers. Most of the events take place on Yom HaAtzmaut, which this year falls on Thursday, April 23.

“Israel in Color,” a celebration of the Jewish state’s 67th birthday at Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC, will recreate Israel’s cities and neighborhoods. Activities include a tech networking event, plus programs for kids. Nearly 4,000 visitors are expected at the free party, the Bay Area’s largest, according to the JCC, which has hosted these celebrations since 2010.

“This day has become a wonderful opportunity for us to share all the unexpected aspects of Israel that people who haven’t had a chance to visit wouldn’t otherwise know about it,” according to Ronit Jacobs, director of the JCC’s Israeli Cultural Connection.

Activities begin at 3:30 p.m. on the JCC’s campus, where visitors can shop at a Jerusalem craft fair, hang out in an Israeli-style cafe complete with Turkish coffee, get hair braided and faces painted, and test the sands of a replica Tel Aviv beach. At 7 p.m., the adult portion begins with a focus on new technology developed by Israelis. Keynote speaker is Lior Ron, special adviser to Google. Representatives from four startups — Loop Commerce, HoneyBook, Rooster and Wishi — will demonstrate their products and answer questions.

The free event runs from 3:30 to 10 p.m at the OFJCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Register for the adult evening program at

Also that day, Hillel of Silicon Valley is hosting four Israeli artists who will create a mural on the campus of San Jose State University, from 12 to 4 p.m. For additional information, see

Children celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut with colorful streamers at the Oshman Family JCC’s 2014 event in Palo Alto.

In San Francisco, Mishmash, the Jewish Community Federation’s group for Russian-speaking Jews, will hold a party starting at 7 p.m. April 23 with a DJ, drinks and food at Arttitud, 1121 Howard St., S.F. Entrance fee is $15; contact  [email protected]

Marking Israel Independence Day in Walnut Creek, Achi Ben Shalom and the B’nai Israel Singers perform at an April 23 event featuring Israeli dancing and food. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Rossmoor, 1001 Golden Rain Road, Walnut Creek. Cost is $10, and reservations are required: (925) 943-7718 or [email protected]

In the North Bay, Congregation Beth Shalom hosts a community Yom HaAtzmaut celebration on April 23 with a barbecue lunch, Israeli music and a variety of activities. The event runs from 12 to 2 p.m. at Beth Shalom, 1455 Elm St., Napa. Admission is free; the BBQ lunch is $25. Visit

That evening in San Rafael, Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Choir will perform Jewish and American gospel in celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road. Ticket prices vary. Visit

Activities continue on April 26, when the Peninsula Jewish community celebrates “Pride in Our People” with Andy David, Israeli consul general to the Pacific Northwest. The event features a film about Israel,  a discussion on international relations with the consul general and snacks. 6 p.m. at Congregation  Beth Jacob, 1550 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Redwood City. The event is free; RSVP at

On April 27, the Young Adult Division of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation hosts a “Blue and White Monday” celebration, transforming a sports bar into a mini-Israel with a Bedouin tent, a Western Wall and a beach. 6 to 9 p.m. at the Brick Yard, 1787 Union St., S.F., 6 to 9 p.m. $10 suggested donation. RSVP at


It’s off to the zoo for fun, family activities and Jewish pride

dan pine   |   j. staff

Carol Traeger does some quick calculating when asked how many times she and her husband have visited Israel. “Well, I’m 71, Norman is 75,” she says. “We started going when I was 20. So I think it’s 9,000 times.”

That’s a slight exaggeration.

Israel in Our Hearts Award winners Arthur Slepian photos/courtesy jcf

But the Tiburon couple has definitely devoted enormous personal and philanthropic energy to supporting the State of Israel, going back to the first visit they made just after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Like the Traegers, Arthur Slepian of San Francisco has been a champion of Israel for years, especially its unique role in the Middle East as safe haven for gay and lesbian Israelis and Palestinians.

For their “outstanding commitment to Israel engagement and advocacy,” the three Bay Area residents will receive this year’s Israel in Our Hearts Award from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

They will be honored at “Israel in Our Hearts: A Family Celebration” — a day of food, fun and furry things set to take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 3 at the Playfield Lawn of the San Francisco Zoo.

Attendees can expect all kinds of fun activities centered on Israel. The kid-centric event will feature a puppet show, crafts, live music, presentations from local Jewish community and Israeli leaders, admission to the zoo and free lunch (hot dogs or veggie burgers).

The JCF is mounting the event, which replaces the venerable Israel in the Gardens, held for years at Yerba Buena Gardens. Last year the federation announced that it was taking a “shmita year to think and reimagine” the annual affair, and instead held a noontime rally at Justin Herman Plaza to mark Israel Independence Day.

Israel in Our Hearts Award winners Norman and Carol Traeger

This year, it’s off to the zoo. Organizers think it will prove a successful experiment.

“Israel in Our Hearts is an opportunity for Bay Area families to celebrate Israel in a fun, relaxed and safe atmosphere,” said federation spokesman Ilan Kayatsky. “The Bay Area has a tremendously diverse Jewish community, and Israel remains one of the ties that brings us together, instills pride and inspires further Jewish involvement.”

“The venue is terrific,” Norman Traeger says. “The zoo is wonderful. We’ll have great weather. What the federation is doing is very important: trying new things.”

The Traegers met and married in Columbus, Ohio, where they lived, raised a family and built a successful health and fitness business. Their 1967 maiden trip to Israel was on a mission sponsored by the Columbus Jewish federation. Norman Traeger remembers Tel Aviv streets still piled high with sandbags, months after Israel’s astounding victory.

“I had never thought of Jews as warriors,” he recalls, “so it was a whole new sense of identity, and a shared pride for American Jews old enough to remember living through World War II.”

Carol Traeger’s most recent visit to the Jewish state was in January, on an AIPAC mission (she’s a regional board member with the group) that took her to the Syrian border, where she observed Israeli doctors treating Syrians wounded in their bloody civil war.

Brass Magic will play at ”Israel in Our Hearts.“

She also visited her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, all of whom made aliyah five years ago.

Slepian is the founder and executive director of A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel nonprofit that works to strengthen ties between LGBTQ communities in Israel and the outside world, as well as tout Israel’s inclusive culture. The 5-year-old organization is based in San Francisco.

“I think the award is recognition that our strategy of engaging people with Israel in ways that matter to them personally is an effective one,” Slepian says. “Doing this work at the intersection of LGBT equality and Israel advocacy is not always easy, so it is nice to see the community recognize the importance and the impact of our work.”

Among his proudest achievements, Slepian cites A Wider Bridge providing a platform for Israeli LGBT activists to tell their stories here in America, and that his organization will be one of the two sponsors of “40 Years of Pride,” a global LGBTQ leadership conference being held in Tel Aviv this June.

But mostly he loves that A Wider Bridge has helped open eyes.

“I am proud when people we bring to Israel tell me that they now understand that Israel is not ‘black and white,’ ” he says, “and that they have fallen in love with some aspect of the place and the people, and they want to stay connected. We are changing the tone of the conversation in our community, and helping LGBT Jews see that they have a stake in Israel’s future, and that it is our homeland too.”

Though Slepian enjoyed Israel in the Gardens for years, he also embraces change.

“I am a big believer in innovation and experimentation,” he says. “I look forward to what I expect will be a lovely celebration at the zoo.”

“Israel in Our Hearts: A Family Celebration”
11 a.m.-2 p.m. May 3, at the Playfield Lawn of the S.F. Zoo. $5-$10.