Israel’s 60th Being Celebrated a Little Early

After two successful summer programs during which area rabbis spoke on politics and bioethics, the Kehillah of Lower Merion decided to put a different brand of experts in front of the lectern throughout these warmer months: the people of the Philadelphia and Israeli communities. The result is "Israel at 60: Personal Stories," a series of talks that will feature local folk — everyone from synagogue representatives, those who've made aliyah and others who have had firsthand experiences with the Jewish state in its history.

"For a lot of people, Israel is very remote," said Alyse Unterberger, coordinator of the Kehillah. "If they haven't been, they don't have that kind of personal connection."

The series is scheduled to kick off on July 11, with University of Pennsylvania emeritus sociology professor Samuel Klausner, who served as an officer in the Army Air Corps during World War II, as well as a navigator for the nascent Israeli Air Force during the 1948 War of Independence.

"It's a very small minority, if you think about it," said Klausner before his lecture, referring to those Americans who served. Of the 100,000 American Jewish World War II veterans, he noted, only 1,500 fought for Israel.

He had come to Jerusalem in January of 1947 to do graduate work at Hebrew University, but when fall came, the school never opened, he said. And while there were Jews fighting in infantry, armor and artillery units, almost none had training as pilots or members of aircrews. As an experienced air-corps officer, he said, "I was drawn into the Haganah."

"We started with almost no planes," he continued. He also described pushing 100-pound bombs out the doors of airplanes during bombing raids on Damascus.

Through personal accounts such as these, the series will trace the intersection of U.S. lives with the burgeoning Jewish state.

"These enormous historical events are really the stories of individuals," replied Unterberger.

"We start with the war for independence, and end with last summer's war in Lebanon. We cover a lot of history."

The program continues on July 18 with a panel discussion involving people who previously made aliyah to Israel, but then returned to the United States. It will be moderated by Amy Buckman of Channel 6 ABC News.

"There's an interesting story there that doesn't necessarily get told," said Unterberger. "They all have slightly different reasons" for coming back, she added, and they're eager to share their stories.

On July 25, Debbie Sullum, an American who now lives in Israel, will speak about an art program called "Sharing Visions of Peace," which involves Palestinian and Israeli youth at an Anglican school in Israel. Sullum's family made aliyah 12 years ago, and Sullum's daughter, Becca, was in the first female combat unit in the Israel Defense Force.

Two veterans of the Yom Kippur War, Adam Wishkovsky and Albert Bensoussan, will speak on Aug. 1, and Amir Robinzon, an IDF soldier who served in last summer's war in Lebanon, will finish the series on Aug. 8.

And even though the Jewish state hasn't quite hit 60 years yet, that isn't stopping the Kehillah from getting ready to celebrate, said Unterberger: "What we're looking at this summer is our kick-off event."

The community will be getting ready with new programs every month — from October through May — running Israel-related events throughout the Lower Merion area. The aim is to build up enthusiasm for the Federation celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary in May.

"Something of this magnitude," she insisted, "can't be celebrated in a few days."

All programs take place at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood. To learn more, call 610-645-8380.



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