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Ask the Expert: How to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut in a small town

Question: I live in a town with a small Jewish community, and with no Israelis. I want to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s independence day, but I’m not sure what kinds of things I can do. Do you have any ideas?

– Megan, Buffalo Center, Iowa

Answer: It’s awesome that you’re planning to celebrate, Megan. Yom Ha’Atzmaut is an important day for Israel and Israeli history, and it’s nice to observe it somehow, even if you don’t have lots of Israelis around to help out.

To get some good suggestions I spoke with Nina Woldin at the Jewish National Fund. Nina pointed me towards some cool (and kid-friendly) recipes you can use on Yom Ha’Atzmaut to represent the diversity of Israelis. My favorite is a melting pot fondue that uses different kinds of bread to represent the different national origins of Jews in Israel today. 

If you’re in the mood for some crafts, you can make your own mizrach sign. A mizrach sign is a wall hanging for the most eastern wall of the Jewish home, reminding us which way to face while praying–toward Jerusalem. Making a mizrach is a nice reminder that Jewish people have always longed for our homeland, wherever we live. JNF has some directions for making a mizrach, but feel free to personalize yours however you want. 

One of my favorite things to do on Yom Ha’Atzmaut is have a barbecue (or, as Israelis call it, al ha’esh). You can serve regular barbecue fare, decorate with Israeli flags and play Israeli music on the stereo. Or, if you want, or you can try to make all kinds of Israeli foods, like Israeli salad, hummus, schnitzel, falafel, and Eretz Yisrael cake. Those, combined with your basic hot dogs and hamburgers, makes for a feast, and an Israeli cultural experience.

Another fun idea is to host an Israeli movie night. There are lots of great Israeli films out there, and you can easily order them online or through Netflix to show at home. This way you can celebrate by yourself, or invite a bunch of friends over and watch together. I recommend Ushpizin (about an ultra-Orthodox couple celebrating Sukkot in Jerusalem) Walk on Water (an intelligence agent in the IDF deals with a difficult mission and falls in love), or Late Marriage (an Israeli man from an immigrant family struggles against his parents’ attempts to arrange his marriage). 

And if you have more of a peace-loving spirit, and you don’t want to celebrate Israel’s independence without thinking about ways to end the Palestinian conflict, spend the day reading up on the issue, or invite some friends over for dinner, and try to have an open conversation about peace in the Middle East. You may not solve the problem, but it’s a great way to recognize what you hope for in the future. 

All this talk about Israel is making me crave some falafel. Chag sameach!

"Ask The Expert?" appears each Friday on JTA’s The Telegraph blog, courtesy of MyJewishLearning.com. Do you have a burning question about Judaism and Jewish life? Ask away!

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