More than 4,500 members of Chicagoland's Jewish community came out on Sunday, May 7 to celebrate and support Israel at JUF's Israel Solidarity Day, which raised funds for at-risk Israeli youth.
Highland Park's Ravinia Festival became a playground of festivities for the whole family as people of all ages joined together for food, music, crafts, and a three-mile Walk with Israel. The event featured performances by the Jamman Drum Circle, Mama Doni and the Nefesh Mountain Band, and headliner Idan Raichel, a world-renowned singer, songwriter, and keyboardist. Also new this year was an Israeli Market Place and Art Festival, with unique, handmade Judaica, jewelry, and more. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, drawing a cross-section of Israelis, Russian-speakers, suburban and city-dwellers alike.
"It is important that all of us stand up and speak out on behalf of the State of Israel," said Dana Hirt, event chair, during the opening ceremony. "We can be proud of Israel's many accomplishments, from settling Jewish refugees and immigrants from across the globe, to helping poor African nations improve their agricultural practices. We can also be proud of a strong and stable democracy in an increasingly hostile world, and as the United States' greatest ally in the Middle East. We can also be proud of this community's dedication to the welfare of our sisters and brothers living in Israel."
Aviv Ezra, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, also spoke at the event, welcoming all on behalf of the State of Israel. Cantor Pavel Roytman, cantor at Beth Hillel Congregation B'nai Emunah in Wilmette, led the community in singing both the U.S. and Israeli national anthems. Several public officials also attended the event to show their support, including: Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider; Illinois State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs; Illinois State Representative Lou Lang; Illinois State Representative Scott Drury; Mayor of Highland Park, Nancy Rotering; and Highland Park City Councilman, Alyssa Knobel.
Children's activities throughout the afternoon included arts and crafts, face-painting, and an acoustic performance by Mama Doni.
Teen activities included a reunion for Ta'am Yisrael, JUF's signature Israel trip for Chicago area eighth graders, as well as soccer, crafts, and a virtual reality exploration of Israel. Area youth groups and other teen organizations were also on-site to educate teens and parents about opportunities for local Jewish high schoolers.
"We love Israel, and wanted to come out and support the Jewish community," said Dana Chesler, who attended the event with her daughter. "I've been coming for ten years. It's so festive, and nice to be all together as a community."
"Seeing the many generations out enjoying and celebrating Israel reminded me of the all-encompassing work JUF does to bring the Jewish community together," added Michael Oxman, past president of JUF's Young Leadership Division.
Gifts raised through the event will help 6,500 at-risk youth in JUF's Partnership Region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir. For more information on this partnership, visit www.juf.org/p2g .