Israel's 63rd Year of Independence Celebrated with Art, Food, Fun
About 500 people from throughout Metro Detroit braved the rain Sunday to come together to honor the 63rd anniversary of Israel as a modern nation-state.
The pouring rain couldn’t dampen the outpouring of support for Israel at the communitywide Walk for Israel, an Israel Independence Day Celebration held Sunday afternoon at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield.
“I love seeing people that come out to support Israel. It puts a smile on my face,” said Omer Oppenheim, a senior at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, who was sitting with other students at a table for the Jewish National Fund (JNF). “We’re going walking in the rain because Israel is a cause that is important to all of us.”
While temperatures in the low 40s and a steady downpour undoubtedly kept some away and made the huge tent erected alongside the reform temple at Walnut Lake and Orchard Lake Roads unusable, more than 500 gathered inside for food and fun with friends to mark Israel’s 63rd birthday.
Special guests included U.S. Rep Gary Peters (R-9th District) as well as state Reps. Lisa Brown (D-39th District) and Vicki Barnett (D-37th District), several Oakland County commissioners and West Bloomfield Township Trustees Gene Farber, Steve Kaplan and Howard Rosenberg, among other elected officials.
“I’ve been to Israel, and it’s a beautiful country; but more special than the physical beauty is the warmth and hospitality of the Israeli people,” Peters said.
The congressman expressed concern about the recent unity agreement between the Fatah — leaders of the Palestinian Authority, which has negotiated on and off with Israel — and Hamas, which the United States, the European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
“Israel can not be forced, should not be forced, to negotiate with someone who won’t recognize Israel’s right to exist," Peters said. "Today, we walk for Israel. Today, we walk for peace.”
The event, in its sixth year since being reorganized by a group of volunteers, hearkens back to annual celebrations organized by the Metro Detroit Jewish community since the establishment of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948.
The state was declared just eight hours before the end of the British Mandate for Palestine was to end on May 15. It was based on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which laid out a plan to divide the area of the mandate to establish both a Jewish and an Arab state.
Israel was quickly recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union, but the Arab nations opposed division of the land, and six of them launched military attacks against the Jewish state. The new Arab state was never established. Today, only Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, and Israel’s borders — and even its right to exist — remain a contentious issue worldwide.
Because of differences between the Jewish calendar and the Western secular calendar, Israel, which marks the occasion on the Jewish calendar, celebrated its independence last Tuesday, as did various local Jewish groups. But Sunday was the day for the entire community, Jews and non-Jews, to celebrate together.
The overflow crowd visited booths of Israeli artists (who will also be at the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center on Monday) and of Jewish organizations and institutions. The director of the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) addressed an audience about the challenges and opportunities faced by those who live in Israel, and a free lunch of pizza and salad from Jerusalem Pizza was served.
Those who braved the weather for the Walk for Israel started at the temple and went south on Orchard Lake Road to Orchard Lake Middle School before crossing the street and returning.
“It’s exciting to have people come out to celebrate and support Israel because it does a lot of wonderful things,” said Francine Levine of West Bloomfield, who has been to Israel five times and organizes Israeli dance groups in the area.
“It gets a bad rap because its neighbors won’t make peace with it, but it’s not an easy part of the world," Levine said. "Israel is a light to the world in how it provides humanitarian relief and the inventions and medical advances that makes the world a healthier and better place.”
Annette Meskin agreed. The West Bloomfield resident is a local and national leader of Hadassah, the largest Zionist women’s organization in the world, which also supports Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. “It’s good to know that most Americans support Israel as a strong ally and a sister democracy,” she said.
"I’ll be back in Israel for the dedication for the hospital’s new tower,” she added, noting that it will be named for the parents of the late Jewish philanthropist and Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson.
Some attendees used Sunday's event as a family gathering. Wrapped in an Israeli flag, Michael Glazer of Farmington Hills stood out, with his two young children, family and friends by his side, for his enormous smile throughout the day. "Celebrating Israel is like being with family. Israel is the Jewish homeland, and it needs our support," he said.
Possibly the most excited person at the event was Adieta Juteram, winner of the free raffle for two round-trip airline tickets to Israel. She and her husband, Deryck, Christian supporters of Israel from Trinidad and Tobago, are studying at the New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson.
“I want to visit the Holy Land,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I know a lot about it, but I just want to be there and get the feel of it. It’s like a dream come true for us. When my mom went to Israel, she bought me a ring that I gave to a friend. Now I can go get my own ring. It’s like a dream come true for us.”