By Tom Hart
Students and Israel supporters at this university flocked to celebrate and socialize at the eastern end of McKeldin Mall Tuesday for the Jewish Student Union’s annual Israel Fest.
About 1,500 to 2,000 people attended from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., proving a more consistent crowd than in previous years, said JSU president Sam Fishman. The event featured the usual attractions of camel riding and traditional nosh from local vendors. Unique additions to this year’s festival included a rock-climbing wall and more informative elements on Israeli life and experience.
“We tried focusing more on the educational components,” said Fishman, a government and politics major, referring to signs about different Israeli locales and representatives from Hillel who were present to talk to attendees about Jewish Birthright trips.
Sophomore communications major Jocelyn Broth said JSU had “really stepped it up” from last year in terms of the attractions, co-sponsors and food available at the festival. Broth was a representative for the all-female Jewish a capella group Mezumenet, a co-sponsor for the event.
Co-sponsors such as the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel studies and Conservative Jewish organization Ometz joined the festival. Cru, a non-denominational Christian group, was a new addition to the co-sponsor roster. Fishman said they added Cru to recognize Israel’s Christian population and the importance of Jerusalem to its religion.
Senior psychology major TR Kim represented Cru at Israel Fest and said it was “not going to be as popular as other tables,” but contended that “for the people who came, they were definitely glad to have this table.”
Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Political Alliance were two student groups that gathered today for the Boycott Israel Fest and Teach-In at the opposite end of the mall.
“They absolutely have a right … to express their opinion,” said senior American studies major Liat Deener-Chodirker.
Deener represented J Street UMD at Israel Fest. The group is pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and anti-occupation group promoting an “open, honest and critical dialogue about the Arab-Israeli conflict,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
Crowds at both ends of the mall thought the protest might move down to the festival, but it did not.
“I’m glad that they decided to opt for a less disruptive method of engaging about this issue,” said Sam Koralnik, a junior government and politics major. “I hope that all the conversations were respectful and meaningful.”
Freshman letters and sciences student Eli Kerner attended the festival for the first time this year.
“[I] just wanted to make sure today I came down on Israel’s independence day to show my support, talk to some of my friends who are here and just have a good time,” Kerner said.
Vicky Palacios, a freshman biology major, said she “just wanted to ride a camel — and I support Israel.”