The University of Massachusetts Hillel and the Student Alliance for Israel (SAFI) coordinated a pond-side celebration yesterday to commemorate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.
The annual event; which was also sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Legacy Heritage Fund, MASA Israel Journey and UMass’ Jewish Student Union; was open to the public, featuring a kosher barbecue, a hookah tent, professional massages, various craft vendors, henna tattoos and a bounce house. Five-piece band from Berklee College of Music, Hamisha, also performed live Israeli music for attendees.
“We’ve planned [Yom Ha’atzmaut] for three or four months,” said UMass senior and SAFI President, Andrew Horwitz. “It’s been pretty intense during the last month or so – just getting all the loose ends tied up, and finally putting everything together today.”
“It’s really the smallest details that you never think about, but they always pop up just a week before,” added current UMass Hillel Israel fellow Michal Baruch, who worked with Horwitz and SAFI to coordinate the event.
According to the SAFI section of UMass Hillel’s website, SAFI believes in “Israel’s right to freedom, safety and security … that good citizens of democracy have the right to live together in a sovereign state, free of fear … [and] in safe borders, freedom and peace.” Though SAFI and UMass Hillel are two distinct groups, Baruch – who’s visiting Amherst from her native Israel to serve as an Israel fellow at Hillel – and Horwitz emphasize the benefits of working with each other’s organizations to plan events that promote an understanding of Israeli culture, society and its people.
“We do cultural events, we do political events, we do some smaller events too,” said Horwitz, of the RSO’s various gatherings hosted throughout the semester. “We partnered with a lot of different groups this year, which we’re really proud of. We partnered with the [UMass] Pride Alliance and brought someone from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and he talked about his experience working with a gay organization in Jerusalem.”
Baruch agrees that UMass Hillel’s work with SAFI is particularly valuable when teaming up to put on events focused primarily on Israel, given the organizations’ different focuses.
“We have a lot of other events that we do at Hillel, mostly [surrounding] Jewish holy days. When it comes to Israel, we definitely work with SAFI because they’re doing it, they’re on campus and they’ve got a lot of people that come to SAFI. It’s definitely great to work with SAFI when we do anything about Israel.”
Horwitz and Baruch’s involvement in the planning of the campus’ Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration stem from their mutually strong ties to Israel.
“Last Yom Ha’atzmaut, I was in Israel, which was a pretty awesome experience. I spent seven months there, so coming back here, becoming SAFI’s president and just being able to share the positive feelings I have about Israel and spread awareness … really means a lot,” said Horwitz.
“It’s really important that people see that Israel has a lot. In the news, you see one thing, but it’s really important just to show that Israel is more, and I think that this is a good place for showing it,” Baruch said.
Kirsten Swenson can be reached at email@example.com.