Students celebrate Israel’s birthday

by Andrew Donohue

Singing, dancing and big blue slices of cake marked an all-out birthday party Thursday on the steps of Northrop Auditorium.
The only thing missing was a birthday boy.
The party, sponsored by the Hillel Jewish Student Center, celebrated the 50th birthday of the nation of Israel. Declared a country on May 14, 1948, Israel turned 50 years old Thursday on the Hebrew Calendar.
“We feel like we are Israel; we are part of Israel,” said Meredith Tygar, a celebration organizer and senior in Jewish studies. “We believe that a lot of people feel this way, and we wanted to do something about it.”
The event began with a memorial for the fallen soldiers of Israel, who were remembered with prayers and poems spoken in English and Hebrew.
A moment of silence was called during the readings, at which time all who gave their lives for Israel were honored.
The mood of the event switched gears again as the students unveiled a guitar and broke into singing and folk dancing. Standing under the hot noon sun, the students sang along and swung each other about for the nation’s birthday.
Between performances, the Shofar — a ceremonial ram’s horn — was blown. The Shofar is traditionally blown in Israel on holidays to call all people to listen. The birthday was signaled during Wednesday’s sundown in Israel with the unison of 50 blowing horns.
Event organizer Debe Freidson, a senior in Jewish studies, knew she had to put on a big celebration after being in Israel last year during its 49th birthday party. She said the events were unbelievable, with firecrackers and parties all around.
“The party gives a feeling of unity,” Freidson said. “We, as college students, can celebrate together. It is also for those who don’t know much about Israel. They can come and learn and get a free piece of birthday cake.”
Along with the cake, samples of traditional Israeli food were available. Celebrators could nibble on pita with hummus or chatzilim, an eggplant spread.
The Jewish National Fund joined Hillel in the festivities, giving students a chance to plant a tree in Israel with a small donation.
“It’s tradition in Israel to plant a tree for life cycle occasions,” said Mark Dizik, a junior in history who gave money to plant a tree. “For the next 50 years, I’ll have a tree growing in Israel.”
When Nazi Germany persecuted the Jewish people in the 1930s and early ’40s, they began a great migration back to what was then British-ruled Palestine.
After World War II, Britain relinquished its rule on Palestine. The United Nations voted to establish Israel as a nation in 1947 for the Jews of Europe and the world. In 1948 it was officially proclaimed the state of Israel. The Israeli population is four-fifths Jewish.
“Many people have a mixed feeling of the celebration,” said Shifra Epstein, a guest professor in Near Eastern Studies. “By the 50th, we had expected to have full-fledged peace with the Arabs.”
Epstein said this year, the celebration is much more free-spirited in Israel. For the 50th birthday, people are dancing in the streets, something they never could do before because of fear of sabotage.