Israel 64 Festival invites Tucsonans to ‘Celebrate Jerusalem’

The Weintraub Israel Center will be taking the Israel 64 Festival to the next level, literally and figuratively.

Israeli flags fly from the balcony of the Tucson Jewish Community Center at last year’s Israel Festival. (Marty Johnston, TJCC)

Guy Gelbart, Israel Center director and community shaliach (emissary from Israel), explains that this year’s festival, which will be held May 6 from 1 to 6 p.m., will use both floors of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, providing more educational and entertainment opportunities as well as more relief from Tucson’s heat.

This year’s theme is “Celebrate Jerusalem Together,” emphasizing the importance of Jerusalem to Israel and to the Jewish people worldwide, as well as to other religions, says Gelbart. “It’s basically the heart and soul of Israel,” he says, noting that it is 45 years since the Israeli capital was reunified.

Among the festival’s new features is a Tel Aviv-style pool party, which will run from 1 to 3 p.m. There will also be a mock Kotel where people can insert notes, which Gelbart will take this summer to the real Western Wall. Tried and true festival components returning this year include the art fair and exhibits by community organizations, along with children’s activities such as inflatable games, some of which will be located inside the gym. Other kids’ activities will be outside, including a pita-making booth and a train ride representing Jerusalem’s new light rail. There will be a food court, Zumba and Israeli dancing. Local choirs will perform in the auditorium, with funny and/or musical YouTube clips from Israel shown between performances.

The Heritage Room will house the main festival exhibit, half of which will be devoted to Jerusalem and half to Israel in general, says Gelbart.

Activities upstairs will include cookie decorating at “Teena’s Make & Take Jerusalem Bakery” and a “Meet the Rabbi” corner with Tucson Hebrew Academy Director of Judaics Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz and THA eighth-graders presenting stories and crafts. “Israel University” lectures will be held in the library. Speakers will include J. Edward Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona, and UA faculty members David Graizbord, Gil Ribak and Leonard Hammer.

Young Jewish Tucson will host a Bedouin tent and coffee lounge upstairs. There will also be a THA/TIPS art exhibit featuring works created during the visit of Israeli artists in February.

Israeli entertainers will provide several shows this year. Actor and storyteller Robbie Gringras, a native of Manchester, England, who made aliyah in 1996, will present a short child-friendly performance called “The Gift” poolside at 2 p.m. with Israeli musician Adam Mader. They will perform part two of “The Gift,” featuring songs, folk tales and stories from the Talmud, in the auditorium from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m.

Their main performance, which also combines humor and song, “That’s Why I’m (Still) Here,” will take place in the auditorium at 4:20. The show, says Gelbart, explores “the complexities and diversity” of life in Israel. Admission to the show is free; it’s cosponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s 2012 Campaign as a thank you to the community.

Gringras also will speak on Monday, May 7 at 7:30 a.m. at a breakfast sponsored by the Israel Action Network and the Jewish Community Relations Council, on the “hugging and wrestling” approach to the Israel-Diaspora relationship.

The festival, chaired by Roni Ben-Dov with the assistance of Jim Liebeskind, festival chief of operations, will include a PJ Library story and crafts from 3 to 4 p.m. in the J-Care room upstairs, and a THA parade outside at 4 p.m. For more information, visit jewishtucson.org or call Jennifer Ferrell at 577-9393, ext. 133.