Sometimes, a simple act can make an enormous impact. At this time in the history of our people, there can be no greater demonstration of solidarity with the state of Israel than to show up and be counted at this year's Israeli Independence Festival on April 21, organizers say.
"This is the biggest support for Israel happening anywhere in the world, and if we cannot show we stand with Israel, who will?" asked Yoram Gutman, executive director of this year's event. "It is critical for people to come."
Haim Linder, former festival chairman, who now heads the event's security team, agreed, saying, "It is a boost for our brothers and sisters in Israel, because they will know about the event.
"Politically, the people of the United States need to know about Israel and its right to exist and about the huge support that it has outside of Israel. The local and national politicians need to know the Jewish community will not roll over and be a lame duck for what's going on in Israel. This is one way for us to voice our support in a civilized way," he stressed.
The 2002 festival, celebrating 54 years of Israel's independence, will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Woodley Park in Encino.
This year's host for the official Independence Day ceremony is radio and television personality Larry Elder of KABC. Elder has been a staunch supporter of Israel since he visited there in 1973 during his junior year in college. He has made the recent Middle East crisis a major topic of his radio talk show.
"I feel very strongly about the state of Israel and what is going on, and most of my callers feel the same way," Elder said in a recent interview. "The celebration of the state is important, as is people getting together and understanding why Israel exists and enjoying the culture."
Some features of this year's event include:
- A children's area with an arts and crafts, pony rides, giant slides and child-oriented entertainment
- A newly created teen stage, featuring seven disc jockeys (including such favorites as the Century Club's DJ Omar) playing everything from hip-hop to salsa
- The Heritage Pavillion highlighting art, dress and music of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions in Israel
- "One Nation Many Faces," an exhibit by photojournalist and Journal contributor Peter Halmagyi exploring the diversity of the people
- An Israeli art and a fashion show coordinated by designer Rafi Yakobson
The Israeli Independence Festival is being co-sponsored by The Jewish Journal, the Council of Israeli Organizations of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Consulate General of Israel. Parking will be free and attendants will help prevent bottlenecks.
Festival planners are taking measures to make the event as secure as possible. The entire park area used for the festival will be fenced, with only two main entrances. Each entrance will have a metal detector, and security staff will be searching bags. Gutman said anything that triggers the metal detectors will cause delays at the gates.
Organizers anticipate the system may slow down the lines of people coming in to the festival but believe most visitors will understand the need.
"We are taking this very seriously, especially after Sept. 11 and in view of what is happening in Israel," said Gutman, adding that he hopes the measures will encourage more people to attend rather than fewer.
Linder said that in addition to physical security, such as the fences, the festival will have manpower to watch for trouble.
"We're going to have special agents at the entrances, Israeli and LAPD, who know what to look for," he said. "We are aware of the valid concerns of people, but from our consultation with all the agencies and our experience from the last 15 years, we don't think anything is going to happen here. "
Organizers are also asking the public to help out by being more aware of their surroundings. "Don't leave a bag without someone being next to it, that's the main thing," Linder said.
Even the skies above the festival will be secure: the opening act of the festival is the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Golden Stars Skydiving Team.
Of course, the primary aim of the event is to enjoy Israeli culture, food and to join in the celebration of Yom HaAtzma'ut, which this year occurs on April 17.
"Traditionally, for us Israelis, this is one of the happiest days," Linder said. "It is our Day of Independence, and no matter what is going on in Israel, we're going to celebrate it louder, stronger and with more emphasis!"
Admission to the festival is $2 (children ages 2 and under are free). For more information, call (818) 757-0123 or visit www.israelfestival.com.