Students mark Israel Week

By Ben Hellwege

Israeli folk dancing, lectures, and a party on the Bartlett Quad highlighted the just-concluded Israel Week. The weeklong gala was the first of its kind here at the University–a festival dedicated to promoting Israel and Israeli culture in a non-partisan fashion.

Despite the sometimes-uncooperative weather and the stress of midterms, the University community responded enthusiastically to Israel Week 2003, according to its planners, who are already laying the groundwork for Israel Week 2004.

Israel Week 2003 was chiefly organized by Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) and was augmented at several critical stages by help from the Johanna and Hermann Newberger Hillel Center, Hebrew Hour, and the citywide “Jewish Community Relations Council Initiative for Israel on Campus.” The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University also co-sponsored the festival.

“Chicago Friends of Israel decided to host Israel Week 2003 because, despite all of the cultural festivals here on campus each year, Israeli culture was never represented,” said Adam Weissman, a second-year in the College and the president of CFI. “It is important for each group at the University to have a time when it can celebrate its heritage and share that heritage with others in an educational and fun way.”

Joelle Shabbat, a first-year in the College and the secretary of CFI, agreed.

“I like that all these members of the community are coming together to celebrate Israeli culture,” Shabbat said. “I think that sometimes a lot of people here at the U of C make very negative assumptions about Israel, and so hopefully Israel Week will help get rid of some of these assumptions.”

According to Weissman, the main goal of Israel Week was to encourage students and community members to think about how Israel relates to their lives. “There are many ways in which Israel and Israeli culture has positively affected the everyday lives of ordinary Americans, and we just wanted to get that message across,” Weissman said. “We wanted people on campus to see that there is so much more to Israel than just what read in the Tribune and watch on CNN.”

In order to help achieve the goal of expanding the U of C community’s awareness about Israeli culture, the CFI kicked off Israel Week 2003 with a lecture by Moshe Ram, the Consul General of Israel.

Israel Week also featured a well-attended Israeli folk dancing event and a lecture on the role of Israel and Jewish history given by Professor Yosef Gorney of Tel Aviv University. The lecture, held at the Newberger Hillel Center, was attended by over 75 people and featured a discussion about the roles of Zionism, Israel, and the events of the 20th century in forging Jewish history and identity.

“At some of our events, we played host to double the number of participants that we expected,” Weissman said. “We made our presence felt in the wider community, we brought a small taste of Israel to the campus, and we built the foundations for a continued civil discourse on issues related to Israel through a better understanding of that state and people.”

On Wednesday night, over 200 people gathered on the Bartlett Quad to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) by singing, dancing, and listening to the King David Peace Drummers, a group of internationally recognized Israeli musicians who specialize in traditional Middle Eastern rhythms.

But Israel Week was not well received by everyone at the University.

Several of CFI’s posters and flyers for Israel Week were torn down, and a few of its chalkings on the quads were crossed out. At least three Israel Week flyers in Cobb were also defaced with hateful messages.

According to Weissman, the vandalization of the flyers has been reported to the Dean of Students’ office. “Hopefully those who cannot discuss issues civilly and without the rhetoric of hate will learn that such behavior benefits no one,” he said.