Jewish Federation Planning Celebration for Israel’s 75th Birthday

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s 65th anniversary celebration for Israel 10 years ago. (Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

Israel is going through a tumultuous moment, but no amount of division, tension or upheaval should stop American Jews from celebrating a remarkable accomplishment for the Jewish state this year, according to Jeffrey Lasday, the senior chief of external affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

And that is Israel’s 75th birthday in April and May. In May 1948, the British mandate over the territory expired, and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, proclaimed independence.

To mark the anniversary, the Federation is planning a series of events. Those include a community mitzvah day on April 23, Shabbat gatherings on April 28 and 29 and A Taste of Israel, a festival, on May 7. The celebration will conclude with a trip to Israel, for anyone interested, from May 14-21.

“For over 2,000 years, the Jews were in a diaspora of wandering people, and yet never forgot about their homeland. And yet here, 75 years ago, this miracle occurs,” Lasday said.

And it continues, according to the Federation executive.

“It’s an amazing, continuous Jewish experiment,” he said. “The fact that today almost half the Jews in the world live in Israel — who would have thought that 75 years ago?”

Lasday did not deny that Israel faces challenges. But he compared the country to the United States near the end of its first century. A civil war was going on.

“Israel is still in the process of defining what does it mean to be a Jewish state, what does it mean to be a democracy, what does it mean to be a democratic Jewish state,” said Lasday.

The Federation executive sees energy on both sides. He believes that Israelis and diaspora Jews are, in their own ways, expressing love for the Jewish state.

“It’s this messiness that’s going on in Israel, but it’s going on at this very passionate level,” he said.

Philadelphia-area Jews can bring the same passion to the Federation’s events. The gatherings are focusing on community service, religious practice and Israeli culture. There is something for everybody. Or there is everything for somebody, depending on how much you want to participate.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Israel 75 celebration will include a community mitzvah day. (Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

The community mitzvah day will include more than 25 service projects like food deliveries, a cemetery cleanup and a schoolyard cleanup. Wherever you live, you will have an event within a short distance, according to Lasday.

The following weekend, the Federation is encouraging synagogues and community centers to host Shabbat experiences for anyone interested. Synagogues in the suburbs, like Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, and in the city, like Mekor Habracha, have signed up to host gatherings. There are also events for younger adults who may be unaffiliated with synagogues.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect spiritually and about what Israel means in our lives,” Lasday said.

One week later, A Taste of Israel will be less reflective and more festive. At the Saligman Campus in Wynnewood, there will be Israeli foods, music and merchandise. James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov will man a tasting area. Tickets can be bought at

That is also where you can find more information about all of these activities, including the trip to Israel. There are four different “tracks” listed by the Federation for the trip: adventure; food, wine and culture; tech and business; and people, places and politics. But limited spots remain, and the cost is high: more than $5,000 per person for a double room and more than $7,000 per person for a single room.

“We wanted to weave these four events together and touch as many people in the greater Philadelphia community as possible,” Lasday said. “At the end of the day, we’ll probably have 4,000 participants in all these events.”

Lasday estimated that a third of the Federation’s allocations “fund Jewish cultural events in Israel.” Jews are one people, he said.

“What the celebration does is it sort of reinforces that connection,” he added. “The Philadelphia Jewish community is part of a greater Jewish community, with a homeland in Israel.”

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