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Melbourne Jewish Community Celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut with Variety and Style

Zionism Victoria, in partnership with United Israel Appeal, coordinated a full schedule of events to commemorate Yom Hazikaron and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, including two new Yom Ha’atzmaut initiatives that are sure to become community traditions.

Yom Hazikaron

Over 1000 people gathered to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror at the community Yom Hazikaron Commemoration held at Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Clayton. The program marked 60 years since the 1956 Sinai Campaign and 10 years since the Second Lebanon War. Candle lighters included David and Joshua Silberman who remembered their cousin, Naftali Zilberman who fell in 1956 trying to save injured soldiers under his command and Shoshana Amstel whose brother Shaul Elias fell in the Yom Kippur War. Shlomo Ben-David, a teacher at Liebler Yavneh College lit a candle in memory of 9 soldiers in his unit who fell in one attack during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Shlomo shared his personal reflections – words he wrote on scraps of paper while in the field. Also remembered were the victims of the recent wave of terror that began in October of last year. Members of the Israel By Choice (IBC) gap year program were personally affected when the brother-in-law of the IBC program director was killed trying to save a young family who had been attacked. Three generations of IBC participants and staff, Helen Lewiton, Tayla Cohen and Michael Alter, lit a candle in memory of Rabbi Nehemya Lavi

Zionism Victoria board member, John Searle expressed the views of many of the attendees. “We have just returned from Yom Hazikaron, sombre, touched and emotional. Be it the narration, the testimonials, the prayers or the music, they were all so poignant, powerful and soul stirring”.

A memorial room provided attendees an opportunity to learn more about and reflect on those being remembered. Following the ceremony, over 150 people remained to sing songs of remembrance at the Erev Shirei Zikaron coordinated by Melbourne’s shlichim.

The following day, over 200 people participated in a Transition Ceremony for families with school-age children at Beth Weizmann. The event, planned by Erez Feinberg and Tamar Alkobi, included performances, an opportunity for those in attendance to stand together with school children in Israel for the Yom Hazikaron siren, and a joyous celebration to bring in Yom Ha’atzmaut. “This important event has now become a much anticipated event on Melbourne’s “Yoms” calendar, said Zionism Victoria Executive Director Jane Rapke. “The full auditorium was witness to the importance of the Transition Tekes for our community”.

Blue & White Night

For the first time in many years, Zionism Victoria changed the format of the community’s Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. Blue & White night brought the festivities to the Beth Weizmann Community Centre precinct where over 800 people enjoyed fantastic entertainment in two unique event spaces.

The Main Marquee featured live music led by Adam Starr’s Yom Ha’atzmaut band and Israeli dancing led by Melbourne’s Israeli dance clubs. The lead singers were fantastic and got the crowd into the celebratory mood, and the flash mob led by Keren Green added an element of surprise to the already very energetic and enthusiastic atmosphere.

The Tel Aviv Café offered variety of acoustic musical performances and the community’s first ever Yom Ha’atzmaut Story Slam. Josh Gurgiel, MC for the Yom Ha’atzmaut concert for the past two years and one of the Blue & White Night story tellers loved the new concept. “I think this new format was exactly what the event needed, and I know it will only go from strength to strength in the future”!

Community member, Stacey Ford also had a fantastic time: “An absolutely great night last night! We’ve never been before – won’t miss an opportunity to go again next year and rave about it to anyone who will listen”!

Over 250 of Melbourne’s young adults celebrated Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut with their own “Israel Bash” at Jackson’s in Toorak. The event was a collaborative effort between Zionism Victoria, AUJS, JNF, Young UIA, Young MDA with the promotional support of CSG and the Zionist Youth Council of Victoria.

Yom Ha’atzmaut Family Festival

For the fourth year running, the Yom Ha’atzmaut Family Festival attracted over 2000 celebrants who enjoyed great Israeli-themed activities and fun for children and their families. The festival brought together a wide cross-section of the community – Israelis and Australians, religious and secular, Jewish school and state school attendees – to celebrate Israel’s birthday. “The youth movements and community partners provided a great variety of fun activities for the participants, making this one of our most successful festivals yet”, said event coordinator Eileen Freed. “This event simply cannot happen without the involvement of the over 20 communal organisations who participated and supported it”.

Israel Shabbat

For the first time, Zionism Victoria worked with over 24 participating synagogues and minyanim to offer Israel Shabbat, thereby expanding the community’s celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut. In this first year, Israel Shabbat coincided with the very day on the secular calendar when Israel declared its Independence.

Participating synagogues offered their congregants a range of special Israel-related programming on the day including special Kabbalat Shabbat services, Israel-themed dinners and kiddushes and special Israel-related activities for the children. Several shules invited Jewish Agency shlichim or other Israeli speakers.

At St Kilda Shule, Rinat Kedem, the Jewish Agency delegation head and Aliyah Shlicha, spoke about the special emotions of being so far away from home on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The following day, her husband and Habonim Dror Shaliach Efri Bart spoke at Melbourne Hebrew Congregation about his life experiences and his hopes for Israel’s diverse population groups to work together to enable a peaceful, respectful life in Israel”.

UIA Planned Giving Coordinator Estelle Wytwornik coordinated the Israel Shabbat efforts at South Caulfield Shule where two speakers, Israel educator Erez Feinberg and UIA Shaliach/ Executive Director Idan Goldberger, shared their experiences of educating and connecting people with Israel, and the weekly children’s program focused on Israel-related activities. “As adults, we can celebrate Israel, but it’s equally important to nurture the young – to pass on our passion for Israel to our children and grandchildren”, said Estelle. “Israel Shabbat provides yet another way to do so”.

Zionism Victoria President Sharene Hambur expressed the feelings of many in the community: “From the solemnity and respect of Yom Hazikaron, through the amazing Blue and White Night which exceeded all our expectations; from the Family Festival when Beth Weizmann literally heaved with people to the great enthusiasm across the community for Israel Shabbat, we have done the Melbourne Zionist community and Israel proud”.