A two-week celebration of the 60th anniversary of the formation of the state of Israel culminated in a day of activities, music, food and dance Sunday at Congregation Kol Ami's Salt Lake City synagogue.
All four of Utah's Jewish congregations, as well as numerous local, state and national agencies, participated in creating a day of remembrance and community outreach to honor the May 14, 1948, declaration that followed the pull-out of British military forces from Israel.
Congregation Kol Ami's synagogue director, Debora Borenstein, said planning for the events went back well over a year and had really brought the Jewish community together.
"This might be the first time ... the first event where we have representation from, literally, every Jewish group and agency," Borenstein said.
Borenstein was quick to point out that, though the events were organized by Jewish groups, the celebrations were for all members of the community.
"This celebration is for everyone ... and a chance for people of all different backgrounds and faiths to come together," Borenstein said.
Activities included an interactive "virtual" tour of Israel that featured five different "stops." The first stop provided a history of the state and a demonstration of Israeli dancing by students from the McGillis School. At the Jerusalem stop, you could leave a note, or prayer, on a re-creation of the Western Wall (the ancient wall, sometimes called the wailing wall, is an important Jewish religious site). A portable climbing wall was set up as the Masada stop the famous fortress sits on top of a tall butte near the Dead Sea in southern Israel. Visitors could decorate their own ornate door at the Sfat stop. The city is noted for its artists and mysticism. The final city on the tour was Tel Aviv, where the poetry of a famous resident of the city, Chaim Nachman Bialik, was featured.
Musical performances by the L'Chaim Russian Jewish Choir and Israeli singer Shuly Nathan were featured and a demonstration of Krav Maga, an Israeli martial arts discipline, was part of the program. A Salt Lake instructor of the technique, Katrina Koche, is also the highest ranked U.S. woman in the discipline. She said the self-defense technique was born out of necessity for an unarmed citizenry.
"When they were still under British rule, Israelis were not allowed to own firearms," Koche said. "A man named Imi Lichtenfeld created Krav Maga to help prepare the people to defend themselves."
Koche said the technique is specifically designed to work for any individual, regardless of their size, strength, physical condition or gender. She teaches classes at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake, as well as at the University of Utah.
Utah's Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, received an award recognizing his friendship and support for the Jewish community. Shurtleff, who lived in Israel in the late '70s greeted the audience with an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday, Israel" and quoted from a recent New York Times article by William Kristol about the importance of Israel's anniversary.
"Even though the security of Israel is very much at risk, the good news is that, unlike in the 1930s, the Jews are able to defend themselves, and the United States is willing to fight for freedom," Shurtleff said. "Americans grasp that Israel's very existence to some degree embodies the defeat and repudiation of the genocidal terrorism of the 20th century."
Shurtleff also noted long-standing ties between the U.S. and Israel.
"I am pleased to say, as we all know, that U.S. President Harry S. Truman was the first head of state to quickly ... recognize Israel," Shurtleff said. "And it's never changed since then."
Daniel Burman, president of Congregation Kol Ami's board of trustees, said the synagogue has its Utah roots in two Jewish congregations that date back to the 1890s. The two groups merged about 35 years ago, and Kol Ami was born. Burman said the name really embodies the outlook of the organization.
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