KaleidoFest draws 5,000 to mark Israel’s 60th

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Over 5,000 people attended some or all of the numerous events at KaleidoFest, a weeklong celebration and commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s Independence as a modern nation state. Last week, the Wohl Building of the Jewish Community Center was transformed into a virtual replica of a Jerusalem marketplace, where Israeli works of art and various products were available; people attended solemn ceremonies for Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers; took part in an exuberant celebration of Yom Ha’atmaut, Israel’s Independence Day which featured a muscial play and entertainment by Israeli entertainer Pini Cohen, and enjoyed countless other experiences that duplicated the many sights, sounds, aromas and flavors of the Jewish State.

Sue Lesser chaired the KaleidoFest Committee, and Brad Horwitz, director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the JCC was the staff coordinator of KaleidoFest, a major component of Kaleidoscope Israel @ 60, a year-long series of events, celebrations, classes and presentations marking all aspects of life in the State of Israel and the significance of its 60th anniversary as a modern, independent Jewish State. The family of Diane and Paul Gallant, their children Amy and Steve Gallant and grandsons Tommy and Richie Gallant are overall chairs of Kaleidoscope Israel.

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The literal whirlwind of events and programs at the KaleidoFest at the JCC covered every possible experience of living in the State of Israel. “I know it’s not as good as making aliyah, but since I have never been to Israel, this is the next best thing for me,” an enthusiastic participant told the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Highlights of KaleidoFest Israel include:

* There was Yom Hazikaron, attended by about 450 people in the Robert L. Edison Gymnasium of the JCC. Replicating the solemn moment of silence observed every year throughout the State of Israel to memorialize all members of the Israel Defense Forces who fell in battle in the seven major wars or in fighting terrorism in and around Israel since 1948, at precisely 7:45 p.m. last Tuesday, May 6, the haunting sounds of shofars being sounded filled the large gymnasium as the large audience stood for an extended and poignant moment of silence. “It was truly one of the most moving events regarding our attachment to Israel in which I have ever participated,” Sue Lesser said.

“It was an historic first for the Jewish community of St. Louis, a moment in which we joined with our brothers and sisters in Israel to pay tribute to those brave soldiers who paid the ultimate price in defense of the Jewish State,” Lesser added. “We hope that this ceremony will be an annual part of our commemoration of each anniversary of Israel in the future.”

* Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, marking the 60th year since May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence, and was recognized de facto by the United States 11 minutes later, was marked with several events. “An Emotional Journey Into the Past,” provided a journey back in time with a dramatic re-enactment of the events in Israel on Nov. 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly approved the Partition Plan, which called for the creation in the British Mandate of Palestine of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Clergy and members of B’nai Amoona Congregation presented a program which they had performed previously at the synagogue, in the venue of the New Jewish Theatre and the JCC.

Rabbi Neal Rose, Rabbi Emeritus Bernard Lipnick, Cantor Sharon Nathanson, Celeste Wieselman of the synagogue’s Israel Committee, and Phyllis Traub, past president of the congregation presented the program.

The presentation was based on a description in a novel by the acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. The novel devotes several pages to a detailed description of a 7-year-old boy’s reactions to listening to the U.N. vote on a large radio in the Jerusalem neighborhood of his parents. Phyllis Traub adapted the narrative into a dramatic reading in which she and the others from B’nai Amoona took part.

In the script, the boy’s father says, after the majority vote in favor of the Partition Plan, “Just you look my boy! Take a long look. Take it all in. You’ll never forget this day as long as you live, and you shall tell your children and grandchildren about this day.”

Rabbi Lipnick recalled that Ze’ev Sharett had the final typed draft of Israel’s Declaration of Independence to deliver to the Tel Aviv Museum for the 4 p.m. ceremony just before Shabbat. “He almost didn’t make it. He had forgotten to arrange for transportation to the museum, took a cab, which almost got a speeding ticket until he talked the policeman out of it. He arrived at the museum at exactly 3:59 p.m.”

That evening, the Robert L. Edison Gymnasium of the JCC was the scene of the communitywide celebration of Israel Independence Day, which included dinner for individuals and families. The Israeli artists bazaar, featuring the works of top Israeli artists was open. A theatrical play, Follow the Blue and White Road was presented by the Israeli House group. The evening was capped off with a spirited program of musical entertainment by the widely popular Israeli star Pinni Cohen, and a performance by the israeli dance Troupe Hora Gil.

* Women of Impact: The St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah and Nishmah: the St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project sponsored a special program on the contributions of women to the establishment and sustaining of the Jewish State. Each table of eight to ten participants discussed the role of several major Jewish and Israeli women whose lives had a tremendous impact in Israel or worldwide, including: Merle Feld, organizer of Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue; Ofra Haza, one of Israel’s most popular singers until her untimely death in 2000; Tzipi Livni, current vice prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the State of Israel, the highest ranking current member of Israel’s government; Golda Meir, the late former prime minister of Israel from 1969-1974, whose premiership including serving during the traumatic Yom Kippur War; Tali Seigal, M.D., director of the Neuro-Oncology Center of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, a laboratory for the diagnosis of brain tumors whose work benefits medical research worldwide; Hannah Szenes, the poet and heroine of World War II, who had been captured and tortured to death by the Nazis behind enemy lines; and Henrietta Szold, 1860-1945, the founder of Hadassah and of an evening school for immigrants in Baltimore which was a pioneer movement copied around the nation.

* Yachad: Day Schools Unite: to celebrate Israel’s 60 years, kindergarten through eighth grade students from H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, Solomon Schechter Day School and the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy participated in a program from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. organized in cooperation with the Torah Mitzion Kollel. The program was the most extensive inter-branch cooperation among day schools in celebration of an Israel anniversary.

Diane Gallant, cochair with her family of Kaleidoscope Israel, warmly thanked Sue Lesser, chair and Brad Horwitz, director of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the JCC for the “tremendous success of the entire KaleidoFest Program. Every event went like clockwork and the participation by a total of 5,000 members of or community in part or all of the events was truly inspirational.”

Gallant added that Kaleidoscope Israel is generously funded by the Lubin-Green Foundatioon, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. “KaleidoFest was made possible through the generosity of Michael and Carol Staenberg, in conjunction with the Staenberg Family Foundation. We look forward to our next major event, the concert by the Israeli entertainer Noa, 7:30 p.,m., next Tuesday, May 13 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, where she will sing songs from her new album Genes and Jeans. We also look forward to continuing our celebration of Israel’s 60th year in the coming weeks and months.”