Israel 65 Festival to celebrate innovation, with an a capella beat

Israeli flags fly high at a recent Israel Festival in Tucson. (Marty Johnston/TJCC)
Israeli flags fly high at a recent Israel Festival in Tucson. (Marty Johnston/TJCC)

“Israel’s Incredible Innovations” — 65 years’ worth of remarkable achievements in computing, medicine, agriculture, biotechnology, renewable energy and many other fields — will be front and center at the Israel 65 Festival on Sunday, April 21, which will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on the Jewish community campus at Dodge and River Roads.

It’ll also be a day devoted to family fun, with everything from inflatable jumping castles to belly-dancing lessons, food vendors, arts and crafts, and a parade led by the University of Arizona marching band, all capped off by a concert with the Maccabeats, the a capella Jewish music group that started at Yeshiva University and has become an international sensation, with two albums, a packed touring schedule and more than 10 million views on YouTube.

There will be a $5 admission fee for the festival (children ages 5 and under free). There is no additional charge for the concert, which will begin at 4 p.m., and is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona 2013 Community Campaign as a thank you to the community.

A technology pavilion will feature speakers from Israeli and Southern Arizona companies who will convey “what makes Israel so special from a ‘start-up nation’ sense of the country,” says Guy Gelbart, director of the Weintraub Israel Center, referring to the best-selling book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, subtitled “The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.” The Israel Center is leading a cadre of volunteers, chaired by Jeff Artzi and Steve Weintraub, to produce the festival.

Along with family fun and “celebrating Israel’s 65 years of existence,” says Artzi, the goal of the festival is “to educate not only the Jewish community but the Tucson community about Israel’s significant contributions to the world, that we are enjoying and benefiting from every day,” looking beyond the news stories and controversies people typically associate with Israel.

“It’s a great opportunity for Arizona and Tucson specifically to build economic ties with companies in Israel” to create jobs here, adds Gelbart.

Some of the innovations we benefit from include Israeli medical technologies now used in U.S. hospitals “to save millions of lives every day,” says Gelbart, such as MRI, ultrasound and nuclear scanners, as well as wireless cards that give doctors and nurses easy access to patient information. The latter is a project Gelbart worked on as an engineer at Intel in Israel before coming to Tucson in 2010.

At this year’s festival, which is expected to draw upwards of 8,000 people, there will be plenty of shade, notes Artzi, including seating areas; the shuk or marketplace, which will feature artists, vendors and community organizations; and the kids’ activity areas.

There will be an IDF “boot camp” for kids with an obstacle course, as well as science activities, rides, a drumming circle and the popular “make your own pita” booth.

Other activities for all ages will include a photo booth with costumes, performances by community groups, and screenings of episodes of “Music Voyager: Israel,” featuring famous Israeli singers such as Idan Raichel, David Broza, Mira Awad and Ehud Banai, along with other Israeli artists and spectacular scenery. There will also be a display of children’s art, with advance submissions from Tucson Hebrew Academy and synagogue religious schools competing for prizes.

Tickets to the festival will be available from local synagogues and Jewish organizations, which will keep $2 for every advance ticket sold. “We’d really like to sell as many advance tickets as possible, not only so we have an idea of how many are coming but to support the community,” says Artzi.

For more information, including vendor applications, visit www.israelfestivaltucson.org or contact Jennifer Ferrell at 577-9393 or israelcenter@jfsa.org.