SMC's Israeli Culture Festival Celebrates Country's 70th Year of Independence

The flag of Israel waved across the grassy area of the quad on Thursday, May 10 during an event to celebrate the country’s history. The Students Supporting Israel club on campus organized the event entitled the Yom Ha’atzmaut Israeli Cultural Festival. Yom Ha’atzmaut began on April 18 and marked the country’s 70th year since the country’s declaration of independence.

The event held a variety of activities to bring a bit of the Middle East to Santa Monica College, from henna painting to games such as backgammon and matkot, a form of paddleball. Informational booklets, pins, water bottles, and other items created by StandWithUs, a non-profit Israel Education organization, were being given to students. DJ Moti, otherwise known as SMC student David Leibman, played Israeli music. Dozens of students waited in line for free food that had hummus, shawarma, and falafel from Ta-eem Grill in Los Angeles.

Justin Feldman, a political science major at SMC, is the president of the club which has previously held events that included bringing speakers from the Israeli Defense Force and hosting film screenings. Feldman sees this festival as a culmination of the club’s work so far. “In doing this, it brought us all together, and I’m really proud we were able to integrate in that sense and appreciate diversity in the Middle East, just as we appreciate diversity here at SMC,” Feldman said.

Areas for Arabic and Hebrew language exchange were available. Fern Margolis, a Hebrew professor, came to the event and felt good to see people engaged. “For somebody like me, a Zionist, who believes Israel has a right to exist, I’m proud of a country that came from nothing,” Margolis said. “Now they’ve won major prizes in innovation and entrepreneurship and ideas of all kinds. They’re doing things we’re not doing here.”

Isaac Shafa, the president-elect of the club, had grandparents come from Israel and parents who are Jews from Iran. He noted the controversy around topics in the Middle East given recent events in the area. “I have a stake in most of the Middle East conflict because I have two sides of me that are kind of clashing, but what we do here is about showing that you don’t need to clash, you can co-exist no matter where you’re from,” Shafa said. “That resonates to me personally on a very deep level.”

There were also people like Peterson Damis, a film major who isn't Jewish or from Israel but still feel a connection to the country. Damis grew up in Haiti, which Israel has helped in the past such as the 2010 earthquake. “I really enjoy Israelites’ culture and their energy,” Damis said. “This energy now is what I see in Haiti. People are energetic, fun, and outgoing. They like to dance and eat good food. Seeing this event feels like I’m celebrating with the Haitian people.”

Organizing the event took months of planning for the club, and Feldman is happy that the work of the club was able to connect people together. “Hopefully we leave a legacy for generations of SMC students to engage in other cultures and to understand the complex and diverse and rich narratives of the Middle East,” Feldman said.