Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of Israel’s establishment as a nation, Anteaters for Israel presented the first annual iFest at UC Irvine with a series of events that lasted from Monday, May 5 to Friday, May 9.
Co-sponsors Alpha Epsilon Pi, Hillel: The Jewish Student Union and Epsilon Pi kicked off the week’s festivities with food displays and a hookah bar set up on Ring Mall. Music blared throughout the week and varied from traditional Jewish music to newer electronic beats.
Isaac Yerushalmi, president of Anteaters for Israel and a fourth-year economics major, described how the week-long festival came together.
“About a year ago we had the idea of doing some sort of Israel week on campus, just because we saw that a lot of students didn’t really understand what Israel is. … We saw that people’s perception of Israel was a warzone, a very violent place,” Yerushalmi said.
Although some displays were set up to educate students about the importance of Israel on the global stage, one need look no further than iFest’s mascot, the iFest Pink Monkey, to see that the event was geared more toward entertainment.
“We wanted to make this event a fun event. There are a lot of events out there that are educational, but they’re not fun, they’re not engaging to the students and we wanted to bring a positive vibe onto campus,” Yersushalmi said.
The highlight of the week’s festivities came on Thursday night, when 700 attendees crammed into the Oasis in Garden Grove. The gathering, which offered an open bar and multiple dance floors, worked to recreate the atmosphere of an Israeli nightclub.
Although the nightclub event was held in Garden Grove, there were still plenty of fun and games on campus as demonstrated by the iFest iPod Challenge.
The game invited students to go through a portable tunnel for a full minute, during which they had to memorize different facts about Israel posted on the walls of the tunnel. In the next part of the game players took a short multiple-choice test. Whoever scored the highest on the test was given a free iPod.
Ami Kurzweil, a second-year biological sciences and international studies double-major, was the creator of the iPod iFest Challenge and helped build the portable tunnel used to play the game.
“I was just trying to think of a fun way to get people who know nothing about Israel to learn about it and I figured the iPod iFest Challenge … [was] a minimal burden on anyone’s time … [and] there’s no catch whatsoever. It’s 60 seconds, learn as much as you can, and if you forget stuff that’s fine, too,” Kurzweil said.
Although Kurzweil stated that the reason an iPod was the prize was because of the device’s popularity, he also emphasized Israel’s role in developing technology such as instant messaging and cell phones.
“Israel is extremely involved in [technology]. Microsoft has one of their headquarters there. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on there,” Kurzweil said.
The theme of Israel’s technological contributions to the world continued into the Israeli market that was set up on Ring Mall from Tuesday to Thursday. Sivan Nabati, a Los Angeles resident and HighTechJewlery.com employee, was among those selling items at the market. Nabati sold necklaces containing a hidden USB device in an effort to blend technology with fashion.
“[It’s] beauty and technology combined … many like the USB [jewelry] and get really surprised when they see it,” Nabati said.
Additionally, plenty of food was also sold at the market, such as shawerma, falafel and piping hot corn.
The week concluded with an Israeli Shabbat dinner. In Judaism, Shabbat is celebrated as a day of rest, which symbolizes the seventh day in Genesis, in which God rested after creating Earth.
Chancellor Michael V. Drake, who attended the Shabbat dinner, told the New University that he was proud of the various Jewish groups involved for reaching out to the community and helping make UCI a positive environment.
“The idea of a festival that celebrates the things that are important to many of us and allows people who are in the community with us to come in and have fellowship with us is always a good thing, so I really applaud it,” Drake said.
Although Drake did not speak at the event, the Irvine community was represented by Irvine Mayor Beth Krom, who proudly stated her Jewish heritage prior to her speech. Furthermore, Krom went onto emphasize the wealth of diversity that Irvine has to offer.
“One of the things that I think people don’t realize about the city of Irvine is that we’re not only one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, but we are undoubtedly the most culturally diverse, thoroughly integrated city anywhere in the world,” Krom said.
Krom supported this statement by mentioning that more than half of the population of Irvine came from different backgrounds and that there is no street in Irvine comprised of residents of one ethnicity.
Although this was the first year iFest was celebrated at UCI, many students hope to continue the tradition for years to come, such as Billy Ravel, the co-president of Hillel and a fourth-year classics and political science double-major.
“iFest is something that all the students that are a part of it were proud to be a part of and loved every moment of it. It was a struggle, it was hard, but they loved it and I think the love that they put into that is the love they really showed for Israel. … iFest will be back for many years to come and I hope to come back as a much older alumni and see it bigger, better and still here,” Ravel said.