Pittsburgh Jewish community prepares to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut
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Pittsburgh Jewish community prepares to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut

Commemorations go on in the aftermath of Oct. 7

Attendees at last year’s community Yom Ha’Atzmaut story danced the Horah at Temple Sinai. (Photo provided by David Dvir)
Attendees at last year’s community Yom Ha’Atzmaut story danced the Horah at Temple Sinai. (Photo provided by David Dvir)

For many, Yom Ha’atzmaut may feel different this year.

The holiday commemorates the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, and is marked by a variety of observances, both here in the United States and in Israel.

This year, Yom Ha’atzmaut occurs in the shadow of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Oct. 7 that killed nearly,1,200. Another 240 people were taken hostage. More than 130 people are believed to still be in Gaza.

Across the country, anti-Israel protests and rallies have taken place on college campuses, some of which have included antisemitic chants and even pro-Hamas slogans.

In Pittsburgh, an anti-Israel encampment comprised of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh students, as well as outside agitators not affiliated with the schools, took over Schenley Park for nearly a week.

As a result, while many will celebrate the creation of the only Jewish state in the world that is the lone democratic country in the Middle East, for others it feels more like May 15 when Israel was forced to accept that independence meant a war with its neighbors and an uncertain future.

For Kim Salzman, Israel and overseas director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, now is the perfect time to commemorate Israel.

“There’s no better time to come out and support Israel than,” she said. “It’s really important for the community to unite together behind Israel and send a clear message that we’re united and we’re not going anywhere.”

She said that what happened on Oct. 7 was a look into what would happen around the world if there wasn’t a state of Israel.

“Jews around the world need Israel, and Israel needs all the Jews around the world,” she said. “We have a shared destiny, and neither can have a future without the other.”

To that end, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is planning a commemoration of Israel’s Independence Day on May 19. The celebration begins at Beth Shalom’s parking lot on the corner of Beacon Street and Shady Avenue. Community members will meet at 12:45 p.m. A Stand with Israel march will begin at 1 p.m. walking down Beacon Street and Murray Avenue, finishing at the entrance to the Jewish Community Center on Darlington Road.

Participants are encouraged to wear blue and white to show support for Israel during the walk, which will include no live music out of respect for those counting the Omer.

Once the promenade reaches the JCC, there will be a live concert in the Katz Performing Arts Center, featuring the band HaShayara made up of men and women from Kibbutz Eshbal in Misgav which, along with Karmiel, are part of Pittsburg’s Partnership 2Gether program.

Since Oct. 7, HaShayara has traveled around Israel performing for Israel Defense Force soldiers, as well as evacuees in hotels. The concert will feature Israeli and American music, as well as storytelling about their experiences.

The event will include different family-friendly, Israel-themed activities at in the JCC’s gym, hosted by the area’s Shinshinim and local organizations.

“There’s going to be food we’re giving away for free, Israeli tattoos and lots of Israeli-themed activities,” Salzman said, noting that the entire event is free.

The celebration is scheduled to wrap up by 3:30 p.m.

A separate, adult-only event will also take place May 19 at the Jewish Community Center’s Levinson Hall from 7-11 p.m.

The party will feature DJ AdamBomb playing Israeli dance music, kosher food and traditional Israeli cuisine, alcoholic drinks, face painting, a photo booth, Horah dancing and other activities.

The event is organized by Israeli native and Squirrel Hill resident David Dvir. Dvir is known to many in the community for organizing the weekly “Bring Them Home Now” vigils in support of the hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza and is co-funded by 412 Friends of Zahal Pittsburgh PA and the Israeli Community of Pittsburgh.

Dvir said he believes that, after so much darkness, the community deserves to have an event like the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.

In fact, he said, the Purim celebration he held was proof of the community’s need for a positive outlet from time to time.

“It was one of my wildest parties ever,” he said. “We had more than 240 guests at the Purim party. People danced non-stop. We had 150 people making a huge Horah dancing circle. It was so uplifting.”

Just hours beforehand, he noted, the community gathered for the weekly vigil, a pattern that will repeat on May 19, as the celebration will take place less than seven hours after the end of the week’s rally that will remember the IDF soldiers that have died and the hostages.

Dvir is proud of his Israeli heritage and very appreciative and thankful to be living in the United States and said he “loves everything about Pittsburg.” He doesn’t shy away from his identity. When protestors began protesting at the Cathedral of Learning before moving to Schenley Park, he, along with his wife, son and community members drove to the university with U.S. and Israeli flags and a bullhorn. They sang patriotic, American songs and waved their flag.

“I don’t feel that we need to hide from anybody,” he said. “We need to be proud.”

He said it’s important to celebrate Israel right now.

“We don’t need any sort of restrictions or to be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by mistake. I don’t buy it and never will,” he said.
Despite the difficulties, Dvir said he wants peace. He said that after Oct. 7 he was talking to a Muslim friend who he told Hamas’ terrorist activity attempted to separate the two.

“We want to be friends. We have similar bonded families. We like to dance,” he said. “We like to host guests, have similar food, we like the same music and what happened tried to create a huge gap between us. He agreed.”

Tickets for the 18-plus party are $45 in advance and $55 at the door.

Before the community celebrates the creation of Israel, Federation will host a Yom HaZikaron ceremony on May 12 at 8 p.m. at the JCC in Squirrel Hill.

The somber day is Israel’s official Remembrance Day dedicated to fallen soldiers, but the commemoration was extended to honor civilian victims of terrorism, as well.

Salzman said the event, appropriate for adults and youth, aged 14 and above, will focus on the victims of terror and fallen soldiers since Oct. 7.

“This will be a solemn ceremony recognizing fallen soldiers and victims of terror. It’s going to be a difficult ceremony because of everything that’s happened in the past seven months,” she said.

More information about Federation’s Yom HaZikaron commemoration can be found on the organization’s website.PJC

David Rullo can be contacted at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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