Many Rhode Islanders spent over a week in April participating in programs centered on Israel, ranging from food, music, children and adult activities to a Netflix drama, the unfortunate realities of war and terror, exploring the past and present by jogging through it or by digging into it, and more. This was Rhode Island’s way of participating in Israel’s national holidays, sometimes called the “Yoms” – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust memorial day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s memorial day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s independence day).
Yom HaShoah began on April 7 with the annual memorial program organized by Rabbi Michael Fel, of Temple Emanu-El in Providence, which featured an original piece by Judith Stillman of Rhode Island College sung by members of the HaZamir youth choirs from Buffalo, New York; Miami; and Providence. As part of the program, Heather Dune Macadam discussed her book, “999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz.”
That same week, over 200 Rhode Islanders picked up activity boxes full of games, music, recipes and stories about Israel. A virtual scavenger hunt was featured in the family box. Families that would still like to participate in the virtual scavenger hunt, which uses the GooseChase app, should contact Or Cohen, Rhode Island’s emissary from Israel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Concerning an item in the adult version of the box, one woman wrote, “I wanted to let you know that I was very affected by the package that I received about a 21 year old fallen Israeli soldier named Itai Steinberger. I came to learn about him through the paragraphs written about him that was included with my Israel in a Box. I listened to his song on YouTube and saw his smile on the photo surrounding the yahrtzeit candle. I lit the candle, spoke of him at Z’man Kodesh [sacred time] and said the mourner’s kaddish in his memory ....”
On Sunday, April 11, about 100 households watched the introduction to a series of new videos about the Afula-Gilboa area, which is partnered with Rhode Island and other Jewish federations in southern New England. A couple of these videos feature two buddies discussing local history, Biblical through today, and sites as they jog through the area, making these two videos great for watching while on a treadmill or stationary bike. Shorter videos highlighted particular aspects of the area, including ethnic diversity and social concerns.
The series was produced with the help of a grant from the Alliance’s Lucy and Max Spitalny Fund, the Israel Engagement Fund: A JCC Association of the North America Program Accelerator, and grants from the Jewish Community Centers in New Haven and Stamford, in Connecticut.
As always, the memorial program for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror was very moving. It was produced by Or Cohen and shown on Zoom on Tuesday, April 13. Clergy from many local synagogues and a few Israelis participated in the program. Naveh Yogev, the professional head of the partnership with Afula-Gilboa, spoke about his childhood friend, whose helicopter was shot down during the last evacuation from Lebanon, after the cease-fire. Prior to the ceremony, the conflict was discussed by two members of the cast of the Netflix sensation “Fauda.” They provided insights into the production and into the actors’ lives.
Yom HaAtzmaut began on Wednesday evening, April 14. Some congregations included special prayers in their services that evening and the next morning, but the pandemic prevented the usual celebration, including music and food, outside of the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence. Instead, 60 households ordered boxes of Israeli and other foods from Clover Food Lab, of Boston, and picked them up at Congregation Torat Yisrael, in East Greenwich, or the Alliance’s Dwares JCC.
As the sun set on Yom HaAtzmaut, on April 15, the Jewish Alliance, the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island and Temple Emanu-El highlighted Israel’s Jewish roots with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Prof. Jodi Magness’ archaeological review of ancient Galilean synagogues and their mosaics. A few evenings prior to her presentation, many people had joined local Judaic artist Nancy Katz in creating their own mosaic candle-holders, which was part of the adult version of the Israel in a Box activity kits.
On April 18, Doron Medalie, an Israeli songwriter and producer, discussed how Israel has found great success at the Eurovision Song Contest, which is viewed by about 200 million households each year – more than view the Super Bowl! This last event was filled with song, dance and costumes and hairstyles from decades past. The program was a wonderful formal conclusion to the celebration of the “Yoms.”
However, the next day, on April 19, the University of Rhode Island Hillel held its weather-delayed celebration on URI’s main quad, with information and giveaways.
LARRY KATZ (email@example.com) is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.