U groups promote Israeli culture to mark nation’s anniversary

Shannon Fiecke

University senior Lloyd Muttom said he went to the Israeli Independence Day celebration Monday to gain a different perspective on Israeli independence.

“In general, the University and higher institutions are left leaning and tend to be more pro-Palestinian,” said Muttom, a computer engineering student.

Muttom – who is from Djibouti and is of Indian descent – said it is good to remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Several University groups sponsored the event on Coffman Plaza to honor the 56th anniversary of the creation of the Israeli state.

Lara Berland, president of Friends of Israel, said her group exists to spread awareness of Israeli culture and it co-sponsored the event to celebrate the independence day.

“When people look at the news, they see horrible things going on and don’t see the culture and the peaceful community,” the biology and Hebrew sophomore said.

Organizers gave out falafel pita sandwiches and birthday cake. They also had informational pamphlets and posters about Israel and hookahs – used to smoke flavored tobacco.

Becky Saltzman, a Jewish student who has visited Israel, said the event was held to promote Israeli culture and show support for Israel and the will for peace.

“It’s not saying we’re right, you’re wrong – it’s a positive atmosphere,” she said.

Saltzman said she feels a deep connection to Israel.

“That’s the Jewish people’s homeland,” she said.

But Ayman Balshe said Monday was a reminder of the year his parents were kicked out of their homes. He said their villages were burned and they became refugees in Lebanon.

“(Palestinians) do not celebrate the anniversary of Israel, we celebrate the 56th anniversary of the oppression and displacement of Palestinians,” said Balshe, a dentistry student.

He said the Israeli government is allowing Jews to immigrate into the country, but not Palestinian refugees.

Yet, people such as his mother, who now lives in the United States, believe justice will be served and someday they will return, Balshe said.

Muttom – who has an Israeli roommate and Palestinian friends – said he feels bad for both sides.

“If you don’t remain neutral on such an issue, it’s hard to analyze stuff,” he said. “What I see is a human tragedy.”

Sarah Stein, student board treasurer for Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center, said Israel’s independence

was declared on May 14, 1948, but independence day is held on a different day each year, based on the Jewish moon calendar.

Hillel executive director Amy Olson said the event had a festive atmosphere. She said food was served to approximately 500 students -despite the wind that kept blowing away the food tent.

“We all prayed it wouldn’t rain,” she said. “We didn’t pray that it wouldn’t be windy.”