An ‘iFest’ation of Israeli Culture

Ditching Israeli politics in favor of celebrating the country’s culture, Anteaters for Israel’s second annual iFest invited individuals to learn about the nation, beyond its conflicts.

The week had a slathering of campus events such as Monday’s Free Barbecue, Henna tattooing held on Ring Road and a belly dancers display that took place at the flagpoles. Weeklong festivities also took place such as the Israeli Market, Ahava Hookah Lounge and the iFest iPod Challenge, all held along Ring Road. Rounding out the week were off-campus events, including recreating the Israeli nightclub experience and an Israeli Shabbat Dinner.

Isaac Yerushalmi, a fourth-year political science major and president of AFI summarized the purpose of the week.

“[People expect that] every time we talk about Israel we have to talk about the conflict, but that’s not what Israel is about … there’s this expectation on campus … [but, Israelis’] lives are not just the conflict,” Yerushalmi said.

Yerushalmi further emphasized the importance of student involvement referring to both participants and organizers. While organizations whose membership expands beyond the UC Irvine campus co-sponsored the week, such as the Hillel Foundation of Orange County and the Jewish Federation of Orange County, the students were the true stars of the week.

Bruce Manning, president of the Hillel Foundation of Orange County Board of Directors acknowledged that without student volunteers, there would be no iFest.

“It’s totally put on by the students … they did it all … [they] go out of their way [working] late [at] night [and] endless hours to put it on,” Manning said.

Some community leaders such as Manning believe that iFest has been carried out with such expertise for the past two years, that it has the potential to shape similar festivals on other campuses.

Jordan Fruchtman, the executive director of the Hillel Foundation of Orange County believes that what has made iFest a success, is its use of traditional Israeli activities mixed with innovative ideas. Fruchtman noted specifically that the iFest iPod Challenge represented the UCI students’ creativity.

In the challenge, players have a minute to go through a portable tunnel that is filled with facts about Israel, ranging from the country’s technology to its traditions. After coming out of the tunnel, players then answer a brief multiple choice test and are entered for the chance to win an iPod.

“The iFest iPod Challenge … you won’t find that anywhere else … it’s done in a fun way that’s not time-consuming or cumbersome,” Fruchtman said.

Although the iFest iPod Challenge is one of the more educational parts of the event, iFest also has a party environment that extends beyond its hookah lounge. According to Yerushalmi, this year’s Israeli nightclub event surpassed last year’s festivity held in the Oasis in Garden Grove, which had brought in over 700 attendees.

While Yerushalmi believes that last year’s nightclub event was successful, he noted that two buses had to be turned away due to the shear amount of people who showed up. Partially because of this, this year’s venue was the larger Electric Garden venue in Costa Mesa, which housed over 1,200 people who came out to the gathering.

The nightclub event was not the only festivity that changed its venue, as this year’s Israeli Shabbat Dinner, which was previously held in the Student Center, was moved off-campus.

According to Justin Saba, a third-year political science and international studies double-major and president of UCI Hillel, the Jewish Community Center of Orange County generally offered a good location. Although Saba would have liked to have the event on campus, the event’s kosher needs were too important to sacrifice.

“It is in the Jewish community center because it is the most convenient place to have it,” Saba said, “It’s the easiest place to cook kosher food.”

Various student and community leaders spoke at the event, thanking the numerous volunteers who helped make the week possible. One such speaker was Tzvi Raviv, an Orange County Hillel Israel Fellow, who was recently awarded the title of “Shlicha of the Year in North America” by the Jewish Agency for Israel. A shlicha is an emissary who travels from one Jewish community to another to help educate about the Jewish people.

Although Raviv did not refer to his military past in his brief speech, he told the New University that he is always willing to answer any questions that Irvine’s Jewish community has to ask. Serving three years in the Israeli military, including being on active duty on the Gaza Strip, Raviv had much to share.

“The students can ask me questions … and I can give them straight answers,” Raviv said. “In general they are aware of what’s going on over there … [but] I’m not a professional speaker, I’m going to give them a straight answer.”

However, as Raviv noted and as Yerushalmi has stated repeatedly, iFest is not a political event. Yerushalmi mentioned that though iFest followed the Muslim Student Union’s “Israel: The Politics of Genocide” week, this was because both events were held to revolve around May 14, when Israel declared its independence.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Is this in response to MSU/Anti-Zionist week?’ … it’s not a reaction at all,” Yerushalmi said. “I wish there was another group on campus that would do a week like this for Palestine … and I hope one day we could take both weeks and combine them.”