Blue and white Israeli flags waving on the campus of the Tucson Jewish Community Center will soon signal “Tucson Celebrates Israel,” a week of community-wide commemorations and festivities. From April 19 to 26, Tucson community members are invited to participate in events ranging from a 7 p.m. screening of the heroic award-winning documentary “Above and Beyond” on April 19 at the Tucson J to the joyous Israel 67 Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzmaut) celebration on April 26.
“A Night to Celebrate Israel: Courage, Resilience and Vision” is the theme of an event to be held Monday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m. at Congregation Chofetz Chayim, presented by the Southwest Torah Institute and the Weintraub Israel Center. A free Israeli-style kosher dinner with wines from Israel will be served. Speakers will include Rabbi Israel Becker, Weintraub Israel Center co-chair Jeff Artzi and Israeli teens Zohar Vanunu and Aviad David.
A Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day) ceremony will take place on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:30 p.m. at The J. Four Israeli teens from the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2Gether region of Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon — areas hit hardest by rocket fire during last summer’s Gaza war — have been collaborating with Tucson’s Hebrew High students to plan the ceremony.
The week will culminate with the family-oriented Israel 67 Independence Day celebration on Sunday, April 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. in The J’s sculpture garden, where there will be tents for shade. “This year’s celebration will be entirely outside,” says Rony Ben-Dov, celebration committee co-chair with Jim Liebeskind. “We noticed many people sitting with their families having picnics last year, so we thought why not give everyone a chance to be outdoors.” Pre-ordered picnic baskets will be available from the Café at the J; order online at jfsa.org.
One of the main events on April 26 will be the 12 Torches ceremony, which debuted last year, “emulating the ceremony that’s so important in Israel,” says Oshrat Barel, community shlicha (emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center, a joint program of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and The J. “When Yom Hazikaron is over, we start to celebrate Independence Day. Twelve torches are lit on Mount Herzl, symbolizing the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. These torches are lit by people who have committed to the betterment of Israel on a national or international level.”
In Tucson, the 12 torches will be lit by representatives of local Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, with the latter including Raytheon, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, IBM, Tech Parks Arizona-Israel Business Initiative, Christians United for Israel and the Tucson Fire Foundation.
A new family activity at this year’s festival will be “riding” on the Israeli Egged bus line. Two replicas of Egged buses will be parked at the entrance to the celebration. Participants will receive a map of more than 12 “locations” they can visit, which correspond to Israeli cities. Families can have their bus ticket punched at the various activity booths that will be interspersed among the other booths in the Israeli shuk (marketplace).
Along the imagined bus route, the Jewish Community Foundation booth will represent Rosh Hanikra, with its white cliffs and grottos that look out at the Mediterranean. Participants will be invited to try painting in the mode of Israeli mouth or foot artists, whose artwork will be on sale at the shuk. Other stops will include Congregation Or Chadash’s booth, offering activities connected to the Dead Sea.
“Happy 67 to Israel,” says Ben-Dov. “I urge one and all to come out and enjoy the picnic, 12 torch ceremony, D.J. with music, and ride through Israel on the Egged bus line” on April 26.
“Whether you come for the food, entertainment, handcrafted Judaica or family fun,” says Todd Rockoff, president and CEO of The J, “we know it will be a great time celebrating Israel!”
The Weintraub Israel Center is partnering with local synagogues to present additional events during “Tucson Celebrates Israel” week: April 20, Lunch and Learn with Rabbi Louchheim at noon at Congregation Or Chadash and Hebrew School Celebrates Israel at 5:45 p.m. at Congregation Chaverim; April 21, an Israeli music concert at 5 p.m. at Congregation Anshei Israel; April 22, Lunch and Learn with Chabad Tucson’s Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin at noon at the Fifth Street Deli; and April 23, Israeli Yom Ha’Atzmaut at 6:30 p.m. at the home of Oshrat Barel. The teens from the Partnership2 Gether region will speak at the following Shabbat services: Shabbat Rocks service on April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El (preceded by Israeli dinner at 5:30 p.m.) and Shabbat service at 7 p.m. at Chaverim; April 25, Israel Solidarity Shabbat services at 9 a.m. at Congregations Bet Shalom and Anshei Israel, and at 10 a.m. at Congregation Young Israel. On April 28, A Night to Honor Israel, co-presented by Christians United for Israel and the Weintraub Israel Center, will be held at 7 p.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre.
For more information, or to RSVP for the April 20 dinner at Chafetz Chayim by April 16, contact Jennifer Ferrell at 577-9393 or visit jfsa.org.