By JULIE ANNE INES
June 1, 2008
Orange County Register
IRVINE- The Jewish community of Orange County threw a bash in honor of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, but Israel Expo 2008 also celebrated the 60th birthdays of the democracies of India and South Korea.
Celebrating three cultures at one event Sunday may seem unusual, but, all three of those countries have struggled, created a democracy and succeeded 60 years ago, said Shalom C. Elcott, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation Orange County and the event producer.
So, amid the Israeli music and dancing, and scents of schwarma and falafel swirling through the Samueli campus of the Merage Jewish Community Center, the event also featured traditional dances from the Indian and Korean communities of Irvine.
"There's a certain attitude that every year that Israel survives is a gift, is a miracle. So we're trying to celebrate that miracle today," Elcott said.
According to Irvine police Sgt. Frank Andersen, about 4,000 people walked through the grounds, which offered inflatable slides, a ride on a camel named Abraham, a Bedouin lounge and 150 vendors.
"I think it's a great thing that the Jewish community puts this together, and it's fantastic that they invite the other cultures to participate and get people to mingle given that Irvine is such a cross-cultural place to live in," said Ketan Kamdar of Irvine as his daughter performed a traditional Indian dance on stage.
Performers included Jewish choirs from different communities and the antics of The Amazing Bottle Dancers – three bearded men dancing in traditional garb while balancing bottles on their heads.
Besides showcasing the diversity of the local community, the event also showcased the diversity of the Jewish community itself.
Of note was a musical performance from the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda. The words sung on the stage were Hebrew, but the rhythms were distinctly African.
"I saw that in the crowd there were many people trying to process 'who are these people singing Hebrew?' … In the beginning they looked a little confused," said Rabbi Gershom Sizomu of the Abayudaya Congregation of Uganda.
Eventually, though, the crowd came around.
"Although the tunes are African, the words are universal. Every Jew understands what we sing," the rabbi said.
"My presence here is telling the fact that we are not one race. We are multiracial, we are multicolor, we are multicultural, we are multilingual but we have one thing that combines us together: the fact we all belong to one community of the house of Israel."
To many attendees of the event, it wasn't just about celebrating Israel, but to also show the community at large a "more truthful" look at the country.
"We feel it's very important to educate the public about what is Israel beyond the conflict," said Sabrina Hinkis, a spokeswoman from Shevet Tapuz, the Israeli Scouts of Orange County. The organization is like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but for the Hebrew-speaking community.
"We are a peaceful people, and we want to show that we are like everyone else," said Hinkis.