By Judith Altneu

For Mitzpeh


Students walked around Israel Fest on McKeldin Mall in 2017. Photo Courtesy of Maryland Hillel

Israel celebrates its 74th birthday starting at sundown on May 4 and continuing into May 5, and the Jewish Student Union (JSU) is getting in on the festivities. JSU’s annual Israel Fest will be returning to College Park as an in-person event for the first time since 2019 on Thursday, May 5.   

“Everyone that’s not a senior has never even heard of this event, so you have to rebuild that hype. When I was a student going to the event was just like a norm, you’re going to go to it every single year,” current Hillel Israel Engagement Associate Renata Schaffer said. As a winter 2021 graduate, Schaffer knows what it’s like to be a student both pre-pandemic and during the shutdowns. 

Israel Fest will take place on the bottom of McKeldin Mall close to the Administration Building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday. 

There will be food including authentic Aroma coffee, merchandise and plenty of activities such as an inflatable obstacle course to represent the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), a rock climbing wall that represents Masada, a dunk tank, and arts and crafts. 

Senior Jewish studies major and JSU President Becca Carin has been working on this event for months and is looking forward to it. 

“I’m really excited to bring it back and have all the students who are walking to and from class get to see it and be like why is there a rock wall, why is there an inflatable on the mall and engage with people,” Carin said. 

Senior cell biology and genetics major and JSU vice president of programming Ashley Weiss is the only JSU board member who attended the 2019 in-person Israel Fest as a freshman. 

“Everyone has been asking me the entire time what it was like and kind of getting that perspective with the planning, but I’m so excited to have it in person again and not only help run the event, but also enjoy all the fun activities,” Weiss said. 

The event will be a bit different than in past years. Community members will pick up passports and go around to tables representing Israeli cities where they can participate in different activities. Each activity will show off what that place in Israel is known for. 

JSU has gathered around 75 volunteers so far, including students and Hillel staff, to make sure the event runs smoothly. 

Additionally, outside organizations that host trips to Israel like Masa Israel,the Jewish National Fund and Birthright will have tables at Israel Fest explaining to students the various ways they can travel to Israel. 

There will be some improvements to the food this year, as JSU got local kosher restaurant Shouk to cater the event. They are bringing falafel, a popular Israeli food, instead of food from Maryland Hillel. 

Weiss estimated that Israel Fest 2019 drew thousands of people, with many hundreds of them staying and participating in the activities. She expects that this year will have a large crowd and is looking forward to Thursday. 

“It’s been so great to see everything come together,” Weiss said. “I’m proud of everyone on JSU and I’m so ready for this to happen.” 


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