Israeli flags attracted Kevin Geppert, a postsecondary education option student, to Northrop Plaza on Wednesday, where students gathered to celebrate Israel’s 58th year of sovereignty.
Geppert said he never had experienced much Israeli culture, but as a Christian, it interests him.
“That’s where Christianity has its roots,” he said.
Beth Ballinger, a sociology and Jewish studies senior and a member of the student group Friends of Israel, said she hoped students could experience Middle Eastern culture through the afternoon’s activities.
“We know a lot about the politics that are involved with it, but the Friends of Israel is devoted to the idea of exploring Israel’s culture and sharing Middle Eastern culture in general,” she said.
Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s day of remembrance, commemorates the soldiers who fought for Israel. Several minutes of silence are recognized during the day, Ballinger said. In the evening, there is a ceremony to transition from the Day of Remembrance to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.
“It’s the two polar opposite emotions that have been juxtaposed because that’s what Israel is; it’s both happy and sad,” Ballinger said.
She compared Yom Ha’Atzmaut to the Fourth of July, “Except in Israel it’s an even bigger deal because it’s the only Jewish state,” she said.
Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said Israel’s Independence Day has been celebrated at the University for at least the past 10 years, the length of her time here and probably before that.
“It’s very common on campuses across the country for Hillel to celebrate Israel Independence Day,” she said.
The greater Jewish community celebrates the day, including at a concert at St. Louis Park High School, she said.
Wednesday’s event gave people the chance to eat Israeli food, including falafel sandwiches, pita, hummus and Israeli salad, and a blue and white “Happy Birthday Israel” cake.
Benjie Davis, who works at Hillel, said there was a constant stream of people, a majority of whom are not involved in either of the groups that coordinated the event.
People were able to ask questions about the culture, taste the food and hear the music.
“We want to give people the feeling that the Middle East is not a scary place, and it’s not. It’s not something that’s evil,” Ballinger said. “It’s culture and we need to learn about it and appreciate it.”