With sun in the sky and music in the air, hundreds celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh at Schenley Plaza in Oakland last week. The May 23 Israel Independence Day festivities included crafts and activities for children, a happy hour for young adults and a nearly two-hour performance from international multi-platinum Israeli musician David Broza.
“This is the one time throughout the year that the entire community comes together to celebrate Israel. And to do it with a legendary musician like David Broza is an honor and privilege for the entire community,” said Kim Salzman, Federation’s director of Israel and overseas operations.
Although the event was held weeks after 5 Iyar, the official date for Yom Ha’atzmaut, there was timely significance, explained Jeffrey Finkelstein, Federation’s president and CEO.
“This year we are celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut on Lag B’omer (the 33rd day of the omer), which is one of the really happy days in the Jewish calendar,” he said. “In a year like this, we need more happy days.”
Despite a gorgeous evening in which families gathered on blankets and music lovers danced to Broza’s soothing beats, the cloud of Oct. 27 covers communal life, explained Cindy Goodman-Leib, Federation’s Israel program committee chair.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for the entire community,” she said. “The energy to stand together really reflects that we are stronger together.”
Carol Kaplan of McMurray, Pennsylvania agreed.
Broza’s playing, with its Middle Eastern, Spanish and Cuban overtones, has a world music vibe, and “world music is for peace,” she said. “We need peace now more than ever.”
Pittsburgh police estimated approximately 400 people attended the event.
Dispersed across Schenley Plaza, the crowd appeared to enjoy the affair. Though there were stations for T-shirt making, Israel trivia, sand art and writing letters to Israeli soldiers, the event was really about the music, Salzman noted.
“This is a concert more than anything else. That’s why there are no bouncy houses to distract everyone,” she said.
Hearing the music is what encouraged one interested listener to cross Schenley Drive Extension after exiting the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
After hearing the familiar sound and observing a giant Israeli flag, Munmun Samanta was reminded of her two-year stay in the Jewish state. From 2017 and 2019, Samanta lived on the Haifa campus, while her husband was completing a postdoc at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
Experiencing those years in Israel caused her to rethink prior assumptions, she said.
Because of the media, everyone was worried about our safety, “but after being there you learn it’s a very safe country.” In fact, after going to Europe, “I felt that Israel was much safer than Europe.”
Apart from experiencing Haifa, Samanta recalled travels to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Rosh Hanikra and Tel Aviv.
“Israelis are very cool people,” she said. “In their culture there is an importance of family, and they value laughing and enjoying your day.”
From the looks of the many giggling children and the several free flowing dancers scattered across the grass, attendees appeared to be doing their best impersonations.
Whether it is hearing Broza’s voice and guitar playing, listening to his jazz flautist’s accompaniment or seeing so many people of different ages gathered here, this event is “overwhelmingly beautiful,” Kaplan said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.