Jewish community celebrates Israel

This year's Israeli independence day took on a more sober tone for the University's Jewish community.

As tensions mount in the Middle East after numerous Palestinian suicide bombings and the Israeli military occupation of several West Bank cities, students gathered on Main West Quadrangle to celebrate the 54th anniversary of modern Israel, as well as the nation's culture and ideals.

"Obviously the terrorist attacks that Arafat is waging make this celebration a bittersweet one," said law student Guy Menahem. "But at the same time, we don't want to lose our vision for an Israel that will have prosperity and peace for all its people."

Menahem, who wore a hat adorned with two Israeli flags sticking out of the top, said the anniversary venerates the principles of liberty and democracy.

"When Israel was re-established in 1948, I think it was a beautiful day for all humanity--finally there was one bastion of freedom in a land where there is little freedom," he said.

The event featured a hookah tent, as well as Israeli music and Middle Eastern food. Organizers said they purchased food from Ninth Street's International Delights, which is owned by an Arab family, to emphasize the culture common to the whole region, not just among Jews.

Friends of Israel, the group that organized the event, constructed a paper and egg crate representation of the Western Wall--the last remaining part of the ancient temple in Jerusalem by which it is custom to leave prayer notes and wishes for peace. Freshman Maital Guttman, the group's vice president, said notes left by the model would be delivered to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

At a time of crisis in Israel, Guttman said the Jewish community should focus on their common culture rather than the political situation. "Israel's been under a lot of pressure and a lot of violence. [We want to] emphasize the importance of a strong Israeli-American alliance."

Friends of Israel President Rafael Steinberg, a junior, said Jewish cultural events were valuable, not just because of the global political situation but because he has felt an anti-Jewish sentiment on campus recently, citing swastikas painted on the East Campus bridge earlier this month.

President Nan Keohane and several other administrators stopped by. "I think it is very important that students and community members express support for all cultures at Duke," Keohane said.

Eleven students expressed support for Israel last Saturday by traveling to a rally in Washington, D.C., said Keith Peckman, a Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.

"Israeli culture and the Israeli state are part and parcel of the Jewish cause," Peckman said. "Any cause that supports Israel and its general state is something that we at the Freeman Center want to be a part of."


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