This week, the Colgate Jewish Union (CJU) sponsored a weeklong celebration of Israel and Israeli culture, honoring the Jewish state’s 60th year of existence. Colgate’s events mirrored many events occurring around the globe, aimed at increasing awareness of the State, its culture and the many controversies surrounding Israel before its official anniversary in May.
“We wanted to have fun, engaging events that all different types of Colgate students could enjoy,” CJU event organizer sophomore Annie Ben-Ami said. “Our goals were to engage as many students as possible in these events, in order to highlight aspects of Israel that students don’t usually think about when they think of Israel.”
Israel Week kicked off with a special Shabbat service and dinner, hosted in the Saperstein Jewish Center. Dozens of students attended the service, which featured specially prepared Israeli cuisine.
On Monday afternoon, American Jewish Committee (AJC) Program Specialist for North Africa and the Middle East Muriel Asseraf gave a lecture entitled “Israel at 60- Looking Ahead” in Persson Auditorium. Asseraf’s talk focused on Israel’s accomplishments in the last 60 years, as well as the challenges it faces and will face in the coming years.
According to Asseraf, the state of Israel faces three major dilemmas. The first is the threat of violent terrorist organizations, particularly Hamas and Hezbollah. Both of these groups are devoted to the destruction of Israel. As anti-Western sentiments grow in the Middle East, Israel is becoming increasingly threatened by terrorist organizations. Asseraf called attention border residents, who must send their children to kindergarten despite the constant threat of violent political actions. She recalled seeing a hole in a schoolyard that was caused by a bomb.
The next challenge faced by Israel is its ability to remain a Jewish state. As tension rises between secular and religious Israelis, there are disagreements about how the state should be run, and if the state should be a state for Jews or a religious Jewish state.
The final challenge addressed by Asseraf was the separation between Arab Israelis and Israeli Jews. Due to the tension between Arabs and Jews in the region, Arab Israelis are often seen – perhaps unfairly – as a threat to both democracy and security. However, what Asseraf sees as most important is Israel’s commitment to protecting its citizens.
“Social justice is at the heart of the Zionist project,” she said.
Asseraf also addressed further issues facing the Israeli population, including the income gaps caused by the state’s market economy, which have left groups such as new immigrants and Arab Israelis at a disadvantage. She stressed the value of being aware of what is occurring in Israel.
“We’re all better equipped to discuss and perhaps even make policy when we all know and are very much aware of what’s going on,” she said. “As an activist, I can diffuse misunderstandings and prejudices against Israel.”
On Tuesday evening, the cultural world of Israel was celebrated with a falafel eating competition and concert in Donovan’s Pub. Israeli reggae-dancehall band Hope 6 performed at the event. Hope 6 is a popular group in Israel, mixing Caribbean musical stylings with powerful lyrics sung in Hebrew, French and Patois about important political and personal issues.
“Not only was the band amazing – they’re nominated for best breakthrough band, and song of the year in Israel – but there were tons of people there, and everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves,” Ben-Ami said. “I think the concert was a really great way to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary in a fun and exciting way.”
To cap off the week’s event, the CJU collaborated with Dining Services to host an Israeli themed dinner in Frank Dining Hall on Wednesday evening. The dinner featured many favorite Israeli foods and gave students an opportunity to try new and interesting foods.