With face paint, traditional food and music, thousands of Jewish Twin Cities residents marked the 70th anniversary of Israel on Sunday, their gathering mirroring others taking place around the world.
The local celebration, called “Israel at 70,” offered Jews a chance to remember their homeland’s past achievements and look forward to the future, attendees said.
“It’s celebrating having a place that we can call our home in the event that we need it,” said Paige Friedman, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and part of a Jewish a cappella group, Chai Notes, that performed at the event. “Seventy years ago, we didn’t have that.”
Security was heavy Sunday as attendees entered through an arch of blue and white balloons, mingling with old friends inside and soaking up the sunshine in the courtyard at the St. Anthony Main event center in Minneapolis. The fete was organized jointly by the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon were on the program, and various performers, from a children’s choir to an Israeli-Ethiopian hip-hop band, took the stage.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, helped plan the get-together. He said he tried to please both American-born Jews and Israeli-Americans as well as catering the event to all ages. The goal is to “celebrate the joy and promise in Israel and the hope for a better future for all the people in the Middle East,” he said.
Israelis traditionally celebrate Independence Day with music and barbecues, Hunegs said. Every five years, the holiday generates a bit more attention.
Yitzy Kasowitz of St. Paul staffed a booth that sold Jbricks, Lego sets that commemorate symbols and events important in Judaism. There are tiny Israeli soldier action figures, a menorah set, a bar mitzvah set and a reproduction of the Second Holy Temple that sells for $600.
“You not only learn how to build it, you learn what it’s all about,” he said of his Lego sets. “We like to teach a little bit of history.”
Not everyone at the get-together was Jewish. Zinna Abedu-Bentsi came with a group from Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Park, a congregation made up largely of African Christians. The congregation, which regularly holds a night to honor Israel, brought its choir to perform.
“We felt we needed to stand with Israel as they celebrate their independence,” Abedu-Bentsi said. “There’s a bond between us and Israel — we know that Israel is God’s chosen nation.”
Tarri Levine of Minneapolis said the gathering was a fun way for the community to come together. She said she liked that it was in Minneapolis, rather than St. Louis Park or a far-flung suburb.
“We’re still here, even though there’s a bunch of haters out there,” she said.