A Taste of Israel Accentuates the Positive

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For Natanya Shaffin, Israel’s rich culture includes music. That is why the 16-year-old Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School student was happy to perform three songs in Hebrew with the a cappella group Shir Madness on Sunday.

“I think we kind of represent one part of the Jewish community here, and we’re showing the different parts of Jewish culture,” she said.

Shir Madness was one part of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s “A Taste of Israel.” The event, celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary, drew up to 1,000 attendees, according to program coordinator Lindsay Frankel.

“The purpose of this event is to build community and to share with everybody here the wonderful things about Israel,” she said. The amazing thing is that there is such a beautiful mix of Israelis and Americans coming together to celebrate the common love of [Israel].”

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Walk through the JCC building in Rockville and arrive at different parts of Israel: The social room was Tel Aviv, and there was a shuk, or market, inside the Jerusalem room where vendors showed their artwork and sweets.

Among the activities: Israeli dancing, a cotton candy stand, a gaga pit and a demonstration of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that is popular in Israel.

Israel at 75 “shouldn’t just be something we just acknowledge in passing,” Frankel said.

Lee Weinstein agreed that it is important to celebrate Israel and to teach his small children about the country. Today, though, their main interest was the moon bounce.

The adults at A Taste of Israel focused on more mature things, the importance of strengthening their families’ ties to Israel, which is why they brought their children to the event.

“I feel a strong connection to Israel,” said Jonathan Liss, a father who spent a semester in Israel while attending Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Liss also has relatives in Israel.

Shaffin agrees that Israel is important to the Jewish people worldwide. “The existence of the State of Israel unifies the entire Jewish population around the world, and it’s a safe haven for Jews, too,” she said.

Fellow Shir Madness member Zev Mendelson added, “I think it’s important that we have a place … for our people.”

He said that antisemitism is a big problem and American Jewish support for Israel is decreasing.

“I think that [people who dislike Israel] use that as just another way to hate and another way to be like, ‘I don’t like Jews, I don’t like the Jewish country,’” Mendelson said.

Rockville resident Arielle Fellner added that anti-Zionism is distinct from antisemitism. “It’s important that, like, when you hear something, you have to stand up for Israel,” she said.

One way for American Jewish youth to do so, Fellner said, is to post [on social media] “positive and real things that are happening.”

Frankel agreed that American Jews should focus more on the positive side of Israel since, she said, media coverage tends to be negative. “We just have to be better at showcasing and highlighting the positive and that’s what we’re doing here today,” she said.

Shaffin said American Jews play an important role in supporting Israel and believes Jews should educate themselves on what is going on there.

“You don’t have to be, like, Israel’s perfect.’ But acknowledging its right to exist and being proud to say that is really important,” she said. ■

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