Celebrating Israel at 62

BY DAVID BAUGHER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Everybody has heard the story – but it doesn’t make it less impressive. “People stop right in the middle of roads, get out of their cars and stand for two minutes just remembering,” said Tali Stadler, recalling Yom Hazikaron observances in her native land. “It’s really something that unites all Israelis.”

On April 18, it will also unite all Jewish St. Louisans, as the community commemorates Israel’s Memorial Day recognizing those who have perished defending the Jewish State or in acts of terror perpetrated against it. The Yom Hazikaron observance will be at 7 p.m at the Jewish Community Center’s Arts & Education Building. It will be marked by a candle lighting as well as readings and singing by local day school children.

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The next evening will feature the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration with doors opening at the JCC at 6 p.m., and the program set to begin at 6:45 p.m. Israeli musician Tal Sondak will give a concert at the event which will be highlighted by performances by an Israeli dance troupe and a Jewish women’s choir. Also on the bill is a wine tasting, along with vendors selling Israeli art and a variety of kosher foods from Simon Kohn’s. For the first time, fireworks will light up the sky over the JCC ballfields to close the festivities.

This year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut will mark the 62nd anniversary of Israel’s independence.

“I think a lot of people from St. Louis have a connection with Israel,” said event chair Stanley Hoffman. “Either they have family there or they’ve visited. If anybody has been in Israel during an Independence Day celebration, they know it’ll be a lot of fun for them to celebrate it with the rest of the Jewish world. During these challenging times for the Jewish State, the celebration is a great way to come out and support Israel and have fun at the same time.”

The Creve Coeur resident said that the transition from solemnity to festivity is all part of the traditional program and will be marked by a special ceremony.

“The beginning of our Independence Day celebration is really the end of our Memorial Day,” he said. “We’ll have a five minute closing of the Yom Hazikaron. That will be at the very beginning of the program so we go from remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror to celebrating Israel’s past and a promising, peaceful future.”

Stadler, who has headed up planning for the Yom Hazikaron observance in St. Louis for several years, said it’s no accident that the two holidays are only a day apart.

“The soldiers that have died in Israel’s wars gave us the country,” she said. “We owe them our independence.”

Stadler is also a member of the committee planning Yom Ha’atzmaut. Rabbi Brad Horwitz said that both events are chances for supporters of Israel to get a taste of the Jewish State. The events are free. About 300-500 people are expected to attend.

“Even for those who are not connected as much, it’s really an opportunity to learn about the culture of Israel,” he said. “Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are clearly a highlight of the year on the Jewish calendar and it would be great if, within the American Jewish community, we would give them more attention.”

Both the 15-minute professional fireworks display, set for 8:45 p.m., and Sondak’s performance are exciting as well, he noted. Sondak, 33, has been singing since age 10 and represented the Jewish State in the Eurovision song contest in 2001.

“He’s a young, captivating Israeli entertainer,” Horwitz said. “He’s going to be singing some songs people recognize but also some of his own pop-style work.”

Hoffman, who spent more than two decades in Israel before returning to St. Louis in 2000, is chairing the event for the first time. He said Yom Ha’atzmaut is his favorite Israeli holiday and the festivities will present a “carnival atmosphere.” He also hopes attendance will come from the general community as well as from Jews.

“It should be a lot of fun and we’re inviting both the Jewish community and anyone who’d like to celebrate Israel’s independence to join with us.”

For more information call Rabbi Brad Horwitz at 314-442-3271 or [email protected]