A reason to celebrate: Toasting 68 years of Jewish statehood

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Israel is known for exporting its high-tech wizardry to the rest of the world. To the Jewish community, though, it exports another homegrown product: the Israeli way to party on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

With the Jewish state turning 68, the Bay Area is getting in the celebratory spirit, including a megaparty at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El on May 11 (the holiday begins at sundown) and another the next day at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Events on a more intimate scale will be held across the region, from a story time for kids to an art exhibit about Israel’s achievements to a night on the town for young adults (see next page).

on the cover: 2014 Israel celebration in San Francisco. photo/andy altman-ohr

At the two big community events, live music, dancing, kids’ activities, exhibitions and Israeli food will be on the bill, along with a meaningful new component: out-loud readings of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, first delivered by David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948 from Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall.

Three years ago, the Jewish National Fund and Bina, an organization that promotes pluralism, democracy and social action in Israel, came up with the idea of reading the declaration at Yom HaAtzmaut festivities. It started in Israel, and the custom now has spread across the world.

Tal Shaked, JNF’s education emissary to the Bay Area, spearheaded the local readings of the Megillat Yom HaAtzmaut, as the declaration is known in Hebrew. She calls it an effort to “canonize it as a very significant Jewish text.”

“Every Jewish holiday [centers] around a text,” she said. “You read the text and that’s a platform to speak about the values of the holiday. Yom HaAtzmaut also has a text, and it established the State of Israel. It’s a beautiful text that deals with all the challenges Israel was facing then.”

At the sold-out Emanu-El event, community leaders including philanthropist Varda Rabin, Jewish Community High School of the Bay head of school Howard Ruben and Israel Defense Forces lone soldier Elizabeth Kate Edelman will be among those participating in the full reading of the inspirational historical document.

Six others, among them Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Netivot Shalom and Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Emanu-El, each will take the bimah to share 68 words in honor of Israel’s 68 years.

After the temple’s cantors lead a sing-along, Matisyahu — the proudly pro-Israel alt-rock/reggae artist — will take the stage.

Students from Kehillah Jewish High School celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut 2014 in San Francisco. photo/cathleen maclearie

Complementing the performances will be a visual display produced by the S.F.-based Israeli Consulate and an exhibit of photographs by Paul Margolis, who traveled across Israel in 2013, taking pictures in 11 cities in 14 days to capture the vibrancy of the country (See story on page 30).

Co-organized by JNF and the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest region, the event is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish LearningWorks, JCC of San Francisco, Congregation Sherith Israel and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Shaked believes Yom HaAtzmaut is a holiday not just for Israelis, but for Jews everywhere.

“Israel has a very big role in Jewish identity for many Jews,” she said. “Israel is not only the state of the Israelis but of the Jewish people. Everyone can find themselves in the megillah [story] and recognize values that are important. The ceremony JNF created is a great platform to strengthen this relationship.”

The Emanu-El celebration takes place at night. The next day, the JCC event in Palo Alto will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and go into the evening, just like it does in Israel. Organizers have dubbed it a street party.

“On Yom HaAtzmaut there are stages all over Tel Aviv with performers out there from early morning through the night,” said Ronit Jacobs, the JCC’s Israeli Cultural Connection director. “People walk around dancing and having a great time. Many Israelis like to cook barbecue at home or in a park. It’s a day for family and friends.”

Children from the Palo Alto JCC’s Beged Kefet Hebrew School sing at Yom HaAtzmaut 2014.

That’s the feeling she and her co-organizers plan to capture at the JCC’s sixth Yom HaAtzmaut celebration, which last year drew upwards of 4,000 people.

This one, too, is presented in partnership with the S.F-based Jewish Community Federation.

Daytime fare will include an exhibit of works by Israeli artists, a fashion show of Israeli haute couture, a children’s puppet show and music by the Bay Area-founded Israeli band Backyard Remedy (Trufat Savta). Youth choirs from local day schools will perform, and Mifalot, an Israeli organization that uses sports to create social change, will organize an “Amazing Race”-type event for teens.

Of course, no one will go hungry. A pop-up café, hummus from nearby eatery Oren’s Hummus and signature dishes from San Francisco’s Flying Falafel and Sunnyvale’s Falafel Stop all will be available.

And when it comes time to recite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a group of teens will take the mic and read the stirring words: “We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the diaspora to rally round the Jews of eretz Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream — the redemption of Israel.”

In the evening, the mood will shift to adult fare. Several speakers will deliver TED Talk-style presentations about Israel and Israeli life. Israeli wines will be available for tasting. And music appreciation will come in different forms. The band Traffic Jam will play jazz music, and at a “silent dance party” people will groove together as they listen to Israeli music on their headphones.

Musical performance at Israel in the Gardens, San Francisco 2003

Among the attendees will be a sizable number of Israelis. The Peninsula and South Bay are home to tens of thousands who look forward to a chance to celebrate with their fellow sabras.

“The OFJCC is a home away from home for the large Israeli population in Silicon Valley,” said its CEO, Zack Bodner. “It’s exciting to see such a vibrant group gather each year. Since one of our goals is to help American Jews develop a sense of pride and a deeper connection with the State of Israel, Yom HaAtzmaut is the perfect time to come together and celebrate.”

Jacobs said the event and environment so closely mirror Israel Independence Day celebrations in the Jewish state that last year, Israeli concert headliner Idan Raichel told Jacobs he felt right at home at the JCC.

Jacobs, who was born in Israel, cherishes her personal memories of Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations back home. She hopes the JCC event will evoke similar good vibes in the local community.

“This is a way for American Jews to connect to Israel when they can’t do so the rest of the year,” she said. “Those already connected are looking for a place to celebrate. Others are curious and come to learn more about it.”

Yom HaAtzmaut Street Party, 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12 at Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Free. www.paloaltojcc.org


Israel Independence Day around the Bay

Events large and small will be held throughout the Bay Area to commemorate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Here’s a rundown:



Library story time. Hebrew-language Yom HaAtzmaut celebration for young children with a puppet show, storytelling by Koren Zuckerman, arts and crafts and healthy snacks. Co-sponsored by Israel Consulate and World Zionist Organization. At Jewish Community Library, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. 11 a.m. Free, but RSVP requested. www.jewishcommunitylibrary.org



YAD Blue & White Monday. S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Young Adults Division event with DJ, pool tables, photo booth and food. At Jillian’s at Metreon, 175 Fourth St., S.F. 6 p.m. $18 suggested donation.www.tinyurl.com/jewishfed-blue-white



Yom HaAtzmaut Street Party. Family-friendly fun all day, with music, art and food; evening dance party for adults only. At Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. Free. www.paloaltojcc.org

Peninsula JCC Yom HaAtzmaut. Slide show and talk by Paul Margolis about his photographs of daily life in Israel. Arts and crafts for children. At PJCC, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City. 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Free. www.pjcc.org

“Witnesses to a Miracle 1948.” Yom HaAtzmaut program with Israeli dinner and concert by Israeli singer Noa Levy. Co-sponsored by S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Sterling Foundation. A Southside Jewish Collaborative event. At Congregation Ner Tamid, 1250 Quintara St., S.F. 6 p.m. dinner, 7:15 p.m. concert. Free. (415) 377-3599

“A Fresh Look at Israel.” Celebration and exhibit showcasing Israeli achievements and innovations. At Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael. 3:30 p.m. Free. www.marinjcc.org

Hillel at Stanford. Yom HaAtzmaut party with a bounce house, live music, painting and Israeli food. At White Memorial Fountain, White Plaza, Stanford University. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free. http://stanford.hillel.org



“Rockin’ Yom HaAtzmaut.” Musical Shabbat celebration with children’s programs, Israeli dinner and wine, henna for adults, face painting for kids and music by Melita Silberstein and Isaac Zones. Co-sponsored by S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. At Congregation Beth Ami, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa. 4 to 8 p.m. Event free, dinner $4-$14. www.bethamisr.org



Yom HaAtzmaut Artists 4 Israel. Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley event with food, T-shirt spray-painting and a collaborative mural project. At Levy Family Campus, 14855 Oka Valley Road, Los Gatos. 1 p.m. $5-$10, $25/family max. www.jvalley.org

Yom Rishon School. Family Yom HaAtzmaut picnic with Israeli food, music and a lottery with prizes. At Baylands Park, 999 E. Caribbean Drive, Sunnyvale. 11 a.m. $25/family. www.yomrishon.org

Congregation Beth Sholom Yom HaAtzmaut. Community celebration with a screening of “Dancing in Jaffa,” music by Lior Ben-Hur and Sol Tevél, Israeli food and drinks and family activities. At Congregation Beth Sholom, 301 14th Ave., S.F. 3 p.m. $10, children free. [email protected]



“Shabbaton: Rest, Reflection & Connection.” Full-day Yom HaAtzmaut event with Israeli-style kiddush lunch, a walk at Ocean Beach, meditation, Israeli music sing-alongs and a presentation on Israeli cinema. A Southside Jewish Collaborative event. At Congregation B’nai Emunah, 3595 Taraval St., S.F. 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Free.  www.be-sf.org/sf-shabbaton

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.