This year, Israel Independence Day falls on May 12. If this is a holiday you've never celebrated, consider adding it to your family traditions.
With Israel in the news every day, the Jewish state is unusually prominent in our minds, but not always for positive reasons. Celebrating Israel Independence Day gives us a chance to remember why Israel is such an important part of our Jewish heritage.
Here are my top 10 tips for celebrating Israel Independence Day:
1. If there is an Israel festival of any kind, don't miss it. This year, the annual Israel Independence Day festival takes place May 15 at Woodley Park (www.israelfestival.com). At an Israel festival, you can dance to Hebrew music, eat great food and maybe even see an Israeli film. Kids today need some help connecting pride in being Jewish with pride in Israel.
2. Rent an Israeli film from your local library or video store. Have your own Israeli film festival at home or with some friends. The Israeli film industry is thriving. Depending on the ages and interests of the viewers, you may want to check out a 1991 film called, "Cup Final," that tells the story of an Israeli soldier captured by the PLO while the World Cup soccer finals are going on. The soldier and his captors reach an understanding through their mutual love of soccer. Then there's always the classics. For example, "Exodus" wasn't an Israeli film, but it does tell the story of its beginnings in an exciting way.
3. Eat Israeli food. Falafel and hummus are so easy to make. You can even buy mixes in your grocery store's natural foods aisle. Just add water to the mixes and chop up some cucumbers and tomatoes and you'll have an Israeli feast. Pita bread is also pretty easy (and fun) to make or you can buy a package at the grocery store.
4. Play some Israeli music. Even your teens will like some of the exciting and fun pop music coming out of Israel today. Check out Ofra Haza, one of my favorites who unfortunately died a few years ago. There's probably a section on Middle Eastern music at your teenager's favorite music store. Don't expect "Hava Nagila" unless, of course, it's done with a world beat sound or as a rap song.
5. Send a letter or e-mail to a friend or family member in Israel. Children in Israel are interested in polishing their English, so don't let your lack of modern Hebrew scare you away. It's a great way for your children to learn more about what it's like to live in Israel today. If you are unable to make this happen on your own, ask your rabbi or your child's religious school teacher for suggestions. Some Jewish federations, like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, have programs to facilitate these relationships through their sister cities.
For more information on the The Federation's Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership, visit www.jewishla.org/html/io_partnership.htm.
6. Study the history of Israel as a family. There are a lot of good books on this topic. Be wary of Web site information unless you are confident of the site's quality. Look at the Web site of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (www.caje.org) for the newest thoughts on how to teach about Israel.
7. Review the history of the Middle East peace process -- the high points and the low points. The American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (www.aipac.com) is an excellent source for timelines on all issues regarding Israel. They may not have materials intended specifically for children, but they explain the situation to busy adults all the time, so they make their materials easy to understand.
8. Have an open and honest debate about the issues. Help each other, especially the young people in your family, understand what is happening in Israel today. Talk about media bias and anti-Semitism. This is a very complex situation involving many important issues from water rights to refugees.
9. Don't forget Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day) on May 11. This is the traditional day to remember Israeli soldiers killed in action, but it would also be a good time to talk about the civilians who have been killed in terrorist attacks.
To learn more, about it, visit myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Modern_Holidays/Yom_Hazikaron.htm.
10. Plant a tree in Israel. Jewish National Fund (JNF) is still planting trees in Israel but you don't have to be in Israel to plant one. They even have a special deal: You can pay to plant two trees and JNF will plant the third for free.
$18 for one, $36 for three or $72 for five and can be ordered online at www.jnf.org.
Donna Gordon Blankinship is a freelance writer living in Seattle.