UIUC students, community celebrate Israel

UIUC2010 Israel

Blue and white balloons decorated the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana main quad on April 19 in celebration of Israeli Independence Day. The bells of Altgeld Hall played Israel’s National Anthem. The smell of hummus and falafel filled the air, and Hebrew music blasting from the radio helped bring Israeli culture to campus. 

The week of April 12-24 was Israeli Peace Week, designed to showcase Israel as a democratic country that gives much to the world and strives for peace, while the next week was Israel Week, celebrating Israel's 62nd birthday and allowing students to experience Israeli culture in a fun and positive way. More than 20 programs and events, including a Yom Hazikaron memorial, Yom Haaztmut celebration, cultural programs, and high level pro-Israel speakers were sponsored by the JCRC/Hillel Israel Initiative and planned over the two weeks by Hillel and other campus partners.

Daniel Flesch, a senior majoring in political science, named Sgt. Benjamin Anthony's speeches as his favorite events. Anthony, a British native, talked to pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups on April 13, and spoke with a Jewish crowd on April 14.

"The first night, he spoke as a soldier. He gave us numerous accounts of how the soldiers don't celebrate or rejoice after a battle. They cry; they write down their last will ... they're ultimately striving for peace," Flesch said.

Anthony heads an organization called Our Soldiers Speak. According to its website, its mission is "to bring the IDF’s proud truth from the front line of Israel’s battlefields to the people of the Diaspora; wherever and whenever audience is granted." 

"I'm going to remember his tone and the way he approaches the issue of the conflict in broad terms," Flesch said. "We can engage in these conversations with people who don't like what we have to say ... in a calm, collective manner."

The events throughout the two weeks were successful and reached the larger community campus, said Erez Cohen, Israel programs coordinator at Illini Hillel. 

"We have seen greater numbers attend all events than in recent years," he said. "More than that, this is the first time that the Jewish community of Champaign-Urbana, the Israeli community who work here and the student community are celebrating the official events together."

While the student and Israeli communities interacted to a greater degree, cultural groups on campus, including the Turkish, Indian and Phillipino Student Associations, have also created newfound relations with the Jewish community.

"These relationships [open] the campus to more opportunities in the future," Cohen said.

Danielle Perlin is a senior in the College of Media at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Posted: 4/28/2010 03:22:07 PM

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