By Angel Gingras
As this university enters its second year of pandemic restrictions, events across campus continue to adapt to a virtual setting, including the annual Israel Fest hosted by the Jewish Student Union (JSU). Unlike last year, event sponsors were prepared with how to host programming online and safely in person this year.
For more than a decade, Israel Fest has been held on campus to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. It usually takes place on McKeldin Mall, where hundreds of students gather to celebrate Jewish culture through food, language, entertainment and more.
This year, JSU turned the event into a week-long celebration in honor of the country’s 73rd birthday.
Becca Carin, a junior Jewish studies major and Israel studies minor, is JSU’s Cultural and Israel Vice President and was in charge of the event this year.
“We planned ahead of time because we knew it was going to be virtual. For me, it was most important to involve all the Jewish organizations of campus,” she said.
And Carin and her fellow board members at JSU did just that. The event kicked off on Friday, April 9, with an Israeli-themed Shabbat dinner to those who registered. The team utilized social media to advertise the events to students and allowed them to register for events through a linktree page on their Instagram account.
Various student clubs including Terps for Israel (TFI), Mishelanu and Avirah led different workshops during the event, while Maryland Hillel sponsored many of the featured guests. The celebration schedule took place as follows:
- Sunday 4/11: Mishelanu, the university’s Israeli-American student club, held Cafe Ivrit, a virtual social where students came together to practice Hebrew.
- Monday 4/12: Avirah, UMD’s Israeli Dance company, performed an Israeli dance routine on the Mall. Also, Hamsa, the Jewish LGBTQ+ and Allies student group, hosted a virtual talk with an Israel fellow who discussed his experience with coming out in Israel.
- Tuesday 4/13: Jewish Student Union (JSU) hosted a joint Q&A event with George Mason University Hillel, where they talked with the Israeli director and cast members of the HBO show Valley of Tears.
- Wednesday 4/14: To commemorate Yom HaZikaron and honor the fallen soldiers from the IDF, JSU shared some stories on social media.
- Thursday 4/15: To kick off Yom Ha’atzmaut, participants who pre-registered picked up a falafel box from Hillel, followed by a Zoom jeopardy event hosted by TFI.
In addition to almost daily Zoom or hybrid sessions, the festival featured a Spotify playlist of Israel-themed songs from UMD’s three Jewish a cappella groups and a pre-recorded conversation with a Holocaust survivor from Yom HaShoah the week before.
Julianna Solomon, a senior physiology and neurobiology major, is President of JSU. She has helped plan Israel Fest for the past three years — before, during and after pandemic times.
“We have a lot of cool events that are really awesome and that showcase all of Israeli culture,” said Solomon. “I think doing it through Zoom, we’re able to explore the culture a lot more and have more personal conversations.”
The event attracted over 50 different people for the various events. All of the organizations involved look forward to incorporating different aspects of the virtual events when Israel Fest resumes in-person activity.
“It’s been a pleasure working with members from Terps for Israel … everyone really did their all and I’m really proud of how it turned out,” said Vice President of TFI, Keren Binyamin, a sophomore marketing and management major. She led an Israeli-themed Jeopardy session during the Yom Ha’atzmaut Zoom party.
To learn more about this year’s event and keep up with plans for Israel Fest 2022, check out JSU’s Instagram page, @umd_jsu.