Unity walk, Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration planned for April 22

FILE PHOTO: Nati Shohat/Flash90


Linda Spitzer Gavatin’s motivation for helping organize a celebration marking the 70-year anniversary of Israel’s founding comes from her love for the Jewish State.

And that love comes in part from something that occurred 50 years ago this summer.

That’s when she met her future husband at a seven-week Camp Ramah program in Israel.

“It was one of those bashert (match made from fate) kind of things,” said Spitzer Gavatin, who met her husband, Richard, when she was 15. “We have a lot of fond memories about Israel.”

Spitzer Gavatin and other members of the St. Louis Jewish community are preparing for the annual Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration, which will feature significantly more programming than in previous years.

The Jewish Community Center of St. Louis organizes the event each year and has increased its collaboration with Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The Lubin-Green Foundation, a supporting foundation of Jewish Federation, has also more than doubled its funding for the celebration this year, according to Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of Jewish Engagement & Adult Programs for the J. 

“With it being a milestone, we wanted to do something special,” said Horwitz, who has worked at the J since 2002. “In terms of process, we were also able to do a really good job of bringing the community together.”

The organizers decided to move this year’s celebration from Yom Ha’atzmaut, which begins this year on Wednesday, April 18, to Sunday, April 22. Horwitz said other U.S. Jewish communities have made a similar change.


“It gives us possibilities to engage more people,” said Horwitz. Organizers hope to attract more than 1,000 people. 

They are also moving the celebration from the Millstone Campus near Creve Coeur to Congregations Temple Israel and Shaare Emeth. 

Rain or shine, the organizers plan to hold a 1.5 mile unity walk along Ladue Road from Temple Israel to Shaare Emeth. 

“I think demonstrating our presence is what is pretty key,” said Bob Olshan, 65, who has lived in Israel on and off throughout his life and is helping organize the celebration. “It’s really being able to show the city of St. Louis that we are there to support Israel.”

Olshan’s connection to Israel dates to his grandmother, who grew up in Milwaukee with the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. He also spent a year working on a kibbutz and later earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from Tel Aviv University. Then he spent seven years working for McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), the former aircraft manufacturer, in Israel.

“In Hebrew, when you say ‘Ani Ma’amin,’ it means, ‘Who are you? What are your beliefs?’ And my Ani Ma’amin is really about Israel; it’s a foundation of who I am,” said Olshan, who is now involved with St. Louis Friends of Israel and an Israeli folk dancing group, which he hopes to promote at the celebration.

The event will feature a 3-D virtual reality experience of Israel, music, a petting zoo, an Israeli Zumba session, kosher food for sale and cooking demonstrations from Israeli cookbooks.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the entire community together and celebrate 70 years of the state of Israel and celebrate something that really was an incredible miracle,” said Spitzer.