SSI Celebrates Israeli Independence
A lone student, Ron, a Math major and former Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier who opted to only use his first name leapt and danced with feverish energy waving an Israeli flag, sparking onlookers to join his celebratory dance for Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day. He said, “I heard that they’re going to have the event here. And I was like ‘I got to come.’
Many students participated in the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) sponsored Yom Ha’atzmut-Israeli Independence Day Festival on Thursday, May 8, at Santa Monica College’s (SMC) center quad during activity hour.
Former SSI member and Inter-Club Council Communication Officer Nathan Silberberg said, “Today is the day when we finally liberated Israel for the Jewish people from all of our persecutors from the past. This is Israel’s 71st birthday of the reestablishment of Israel.”
Between WW1 and WW2, the League of Nations mandated Great Britain administrative control over present day Israel and Palestine. During Britain’s three-decade governance, the region saw a rise in Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, protests and revolts from both sides.
To resolve conflict and ease tensions in the region the United Nations (UN) proposed “Resolution 181 (II)”. The UN attempted to create two independent Arab and Jewish states, form an economic union and establish religious and minority protections. However, an agreement between the two cultures was not met. Conflict soon followed.
On Friday, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, declared Israel’s independence. The declaration went into effect at midnight upon the conclusion of the British Mandate. Israel’s declaration of independence ignited further conflict within the already tense region. The result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War allowed for a permanent Israeli state, the displacement of 700,000 Palestinian civilians and decades of regional conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab nations.
The result of the war allowed Israel to solidify its independence.
Born in the US, Ron volunteered with the IDF after high school and the 2014 Gaza War. “I’m Israeli,” he said. “I go to the festivals. I tell people I’m Israeli. What would be more Israeli of me than to do what Israelis do?”
SSI’s Yom Ha’atzmut-Israeli Independence Day Festival focused on celebrating Israel’s culture and diversity.
The festival had music, free food, games, an outdoor photobooth and visiting Israeli and Jewish groups.
Two of the visiting organizations highlighted Israel’s diversity.
Jimena, also known as Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa brought traditional clothing and board games. Jimena’s Los Angeles Program Coordinator Odin Ozdil states, “These are countries that had very sizeable Jewish populations just half a century ago.” He explained that many Jewish communities fled these countries due to cultural divisions and continued to discuss how Israel acts as a unifying home to discover one’s Jewish identity. Ozdil wanted to educate American Jews to this diverse heritage.
Pamela Brode, Westcoast Recruiter for Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement founded in 1909, pointed out that Young Judaea is a pluralist organization, meaning they work across the entire Jewish cultural spectrum. Brode stated that participants can visit Israel through volunteer or internships ranging from engineering, medicine and more.
Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day Festival acted as not only a celebration of Israeli culture, but also as an opportunity to share and educate SMC’s student body.
Silberberg continued to elaborate, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be pro-Israel. That’s what we are here saying, that you can stand up for human rights and if you stand up for human rights and peace then you stand with Israel.” Silberberg stated that the Yom Ha’atzmut festival was a bridge to show that Israel’s democracy is open to all cultures and faiths.
While many celebrated Israeli independence, others voiced an opposing view.
Across campus, members from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted their own event, Palestine 101. The Facebook event claimed it would shed light on the “real history of the Isreali-Palestinian conflict and human right crisis in Palestine.” Elise, an SJP member who chose to not give her last name, explained that Palestine 101 discussed both the ancient and modern history of Palestine, twentieth-century Palestinian conflicts, and the roles Americans can play to help.
A.S. Vice-President and Students for Justice in Palestine member Hesham Jarmakani expressed his own independent confusion on how could the Yom Ha’atzmut be a festival for peace and unity when Students Supporting Israel did not reach out to other side. He states, “I don’t think that it’s a sign of peace if your saying, ‘oh we want peace, but we refuse to recognize you,’ or, ‘Oh we want peace, but you’re not welcome here,’ directly or indirectly.”
A.S. Secretary and Yom Ha’atzmut participant Itzchak Maghen summed up the festival’s sentiment. “You can be whoever you are,” Maghen said. “Any other ethnicity, race or gender. We all just want to work together and live together.”