Students celebrate Israel’s 59th birthday

Israel, established for Jewish people after World War II, still stirs debates.

Kathryn Nelson

University students celebrated Israel’s 59th birthday with traditional food and festivities Monday in front of Coffman Union.

The state’s blue and white flags flew atop a pitched tent as volunteers passed out falafel, humus, pitas and birthday cake to hungry passersby.

Yom Ha’atzmaut, otherwise known as Israel’s Independence Day, commences 24 hours after Yom Hazikaron, the Memorial Day dedicated to remembering fallen soldiers.

Graduate student Ilan Sagiv said this is the first year he has celebrated Independence Day away from his home country of Israel.

“It’s not just another day, it’s something special,” he said.

Memorial Day is also a sacred time for Sagiv. During last summer’s conflict in Lebanon, he was drafted into the army and knew several people who died in the fighting.

Hillel member and coordinator of the event Mordechai Schaleger, a first-year student, visited Israel last January through Taglit-Birthright

Israel, a trip available for Jewish young adults to visit the land central to their religion.

Many times, debate stems from the issue of Israel, which was established for the Jewish people after World War II, but Schaleger said the situation is not as clear cut as it might seem.

“It’s much more complicated than it looks on the surface,” he said.

During his 10-day trip, Schaleger visited the Palestinian territory in the West Bank and said the living conditions were “abysmal.”

The current generation, he said, is left with the pieces of the broken territory and will someday need to find peace.

Although the event was a celebration of the state of Israel, several participants were less supportive of the nation.

MK Davis returned from the West Bank, a disputed Palestinian territory, two weeks ago, and said she is against the occupation of Israel on Palestinian land.

Along with a friend, Davis passed out leaflets that stated that more than 750,000 people became refugees during the war for Israeli independence between 1947 and 1949.

Davis, a member of Jews for an End to the Occupation, said she grew up in a Jewish family that believed in the Zionist movement, which supports the state of Israel as a Jewish nation. As she grew older, she began questioning her parents’ beliefs and exploring other ideas about Israeli-Palestinian relations.

As Ben Abramson stood in line to get birthday cake from the associate director of Hillel, he explained his experience living in Israel during 2003.

Abramson’s job required responding to ambulance calls while he lived in the Negev, an area in the southern part of Israel.

Although he said there are varying points of view in regard to the state of Israel, Abramson said Monday’s event was not making a political statement about the country, and that he found Davis’ actions “a little offensive.”

Many people did engage in limited discussion about the future of Israel during the festivities. Still, almost all made it clear that finding peace and justice in the area was crucial to the livelihood of Israel and to its neighbors.