Students planted succulents, played Israel trivia, sampled falafel and participated in many other activities on McKeldin Mall.
By Alexandra Alpert
Students at this university came together on Tuesday, May 2, on McKeldin Mall to celebrate Israel Week at the annual Israel Fest.
Israel Fest, hosted by the University of Maryland Hillel, organized various booths and student-run clubs, including Israeli trivia, Israeli food stands, giveaways, rock climbing, succulent making and more.
Ruth Glaun, a freshman neuroscience major, was running the 3 Strands booth at Israel Fest. 3 Strands is a student-run organization that braids and bakes challah bread which is then sold to members of the community. Proceeds are donated to Yad Yehuda of Greater Washington, which then distributes to Jewish families in need, helping end food insecurity.
At their booth, 3 Strands gave out portion-sized challahs to students to spread awareness about what they do and their cause.
“Having an event like Israel Fest is a great way to get students involved on campus and create a safe space for students,” Glaun said.
The University of Maryland Chabad hosted a booth where they constructed a mock Western Wall. Students were able to take photos with the wall or wrap tefillin.
“The Kotel is one of the big landmarks that everyone recognizes from Israel,” Chabad Rabbi Eli Backman said.
“Israel Fest is an opportunity for students to connect with something that they feel close to and it creates a place where they can be proud to walk around the McKeldin Mall,” Brakman said.
Samuel Martin, a senior economics major, represented the Tikun Olam booth. Tikun Olam set up a booth focused on an “empathy project.” This initiative aimed to gather notes of encouragement from students and ultimately create a mural by combining all the collected messages.
“I think an event like [Israel Fest] is very positive for students. Usually, students are just moving from class to class, but this event gets people outside and lets them explore Judaism more,” Martin said.
Hillel director Ari Israel was also at the event. Israel said this event is a way for students to celebrate what it means to be a pro-Israel student on campus.
“Israel is a beautiful reality and a modern miracle that is impacting the entire world, even here in College Park,” said Israel.
Israel also said that each booth had meaning, which demonstrates the beauty and importance of Israel.
“The trivia booth gives people the ability to connect with Israel’s history, the planting booth shows that Israel has blossomed, and Israeli food connects with the culture,” Israel said.
Alexis Silhavy, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major, was one of the many students to attend Israel Fest; Silhavy says she came for the afternoon to explore all of the different booths.
Silhavy believes that Israel Fest is a powerful event because it spreads awareness and knowledge about the country. “A lot of students either don’t know anything or have preconceived notions [about Israel], so it’s a great way to educate students with fun activities,” Silhavy said.