Chicago honors Israel’s 60th

Alexandra Finkel

Blue and white glow sticks lit up a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena to celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday at the Yom Ha’atzmaut Independence Day Gala Thursday night.

Three Jewish personalities headlined the event: comedian Jeff Garlin from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” provided comedy, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author Elie Wiesel and David Broza, who closed the show with an Israeli music concert.

Jewish United Fund group [email protected] hosted the event, which attracted more than 8,000 people from seven to 95 years old.

“The Jewish community has come together tonight to celebrate one thing,” said Michael Kotzin, the executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “Each of us has our own memories and perspectives, but we all share that sense of connection to the state of Israel.”

Although NU was not directly involved with planning the event, members of Hillel and Students for Israel volunteered. Students for Israel planned a variety of events this week to celebrate Israel’s anniversary.

Medill freshman Zoe Fox, a member of Students for Israel, said most of her family lives in Israel, and she felt a personal connection with the celebration.

“This event is so important because Israel’s 60th anniversary is a victory of democracy in the Middle East,” she said.

Wiesel, who spoke last, told stories about his experiences the day Israel became a state.

“Every fiber in my body was shivering when (David) Ben-Gurion said, ‘Now we declare the creation of a Jewish state now called Israel,'” Wiesel said.

Lester Crown, [email protected]’s chairman and McCormick ’46, also recalled that historic day. Crown said he was present in Chicago Stadium when the Israeli flag was unfurled for the first time.

“Israel is a dream that has sustained us throughout the ages, but just six decades ago, that dream became a reality,” he said. “Those of us that were there to witness the birth of the modern state of Israel will never forget it – we knew we were experiencing a miracle.”

Wiesel also spoke about Israel’s current state and encouraged the audience to help others in need.

“There are now a million Jews that live below the poverty level in Israel,” he said. “We should do more.”

Garlin, from the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” took a more light-hearted approach to the commemoration.

He told anecdotes of his Chicago youth for about 15 minutes, including a time he stole candy from a store.

Broza played Israeli folk music, based heavily on the guitar, in both Hebrew and English. The crowd was clapping and people were dancing in their seats and in the aisles.

“Tonight felt like the place to be,” said Miriam Kramer, a Skokie resident.

This year’s event was especially meaningful for Kramer, who returned from a trip to Israel in January. She said she had attended the 50th anniversary of Israel’s independence 10 years ago, which was also held at NU.

Francis Rabinowitz of Highland Park said she came to see Wiesel speak but was impressed by the entire show.

“It was very inspirational to see all the different groups celebrate Israel’s birthday together,” she said. “Chicago has a great deal to be proud of.”

Crown emphasized the significance of celebrating Israel, which is still considered a young nation.

“Today we honor the tiny nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust and became the beacon of Jewish pride and the light onto all the nations of the world,” he said.

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