By Charles Bernsen
Gene and Reva Heller arrived early for the May 7 Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration in Red Caboose Park and found a shady spot at a covered picnic table where they had a full view of the expansive green lawn rising toward the outdoor stage festooned in blue and white and flanked by American and Israeli flags.
There they sat for much of the next three hours as hundreds of people filled the park on a nearly cloudless spring afternoon to mark the 69th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. With the Jonathan Rimberg trio from New York playing Israeli and Jewish music, the Hellers watched as kids and adults sang and danced, tossed Frisbees and Velcro balls, swiveled hula hoops on their hips and tumbled around in a bouncy house, jumped rope, got their faces painted, and ate hot dogs (kosher, of course), falafel and sweet treats.
“It’s so wonderful to see every part of the community come together – especially the kids,” Reva said.
The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee in conjunction with the Gordon Jewish Community Center, and this was the second year it was held in Bellevue’s Red Caboose Park, where it has taken on the casual feel of an outdoor festival with live music, food vendors, kids activities, a stand selling Israeli jewelry, and information booths staffed by local congregations and Jewish agencies like Hadassah and BBYO.
The three-hour even began with the Rimburg trio accompanying a children’s chorus comprised of students Akiva School and congregational religious schools singing “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem, and “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”). The children then descended from the stage and performed several Israeli line dance numbers they had been rehearsing for weeks under the tutelage of Evelyn Koch, religious school directors and Akiva Principal Daniella Pressner.
For the past five years, the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration has been an opportunity to honor individuals and groups who have worked to strengthen ties between Nashville and Israel, and this year the Federation paid tribute to the five local Jewish congregations for their efforts in promoting Israel education and advocacy. In presenting plaques with an image of the Jerusalem Kotel the presidents of the congregations, Jewish Federation Executive Director Mark S. Freedman took special note of the successful community mission to Israel last spring, which included 85 people representing all five congregations.
Among those taking it all in were Bob and Barbara Woolf. Like the Hellers, one of the things they enjoy most about the Israel Independence Day celebration is that the Jewish community’s cooperation and camaraderie is so evident.
“I love the ruach (spirit),” Barbara said.
Bob, a former director of the GJCC, also likes the spontaneity and openness of the outdoor venue, noting that people from the larger community who happened to be visiting the park were enjoying the festivities – and even taking part in the line dancing.
“I like the idea of making it a true public celebration,” he said.
The Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration always draws a lot of Israelis who are living in or just visiting Nashville.
“We love it,” said Israeli Avi Avraham, sitting on blanket with his wife, Ina, and their 3-year-old son, Ari. The family has been in Nashville since 2014. “In Israel, you spend Yom Ha’atzmut with your family, and this is now our Jewish family.”
Coordinating the event was Adi Ben Dor, the Federation’s community shlicha (Israel emissary), who was assisted by a volunteer committee that included Yifat Crouvi, Tamar Ginzburg, Joe Perlen, Evelyn and Mosh Koch, Jacob Kupin Moises Paz, Michael Dobrin and Ted Thaler.
“It’s so exciting to be celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Nashville so far from home,” Ben Dor said.
Alex and Ayelet Berger were there with their 18-month-old son, Ruben, who was enjoying his first Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration even if he didn’t understand exactly what it was all about.
Said Ayelet, “It’s just so amazing to see so many people come together like this.” •