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Hillel at UGA Celebrates Israel Week with Education and Festivities

Red & Black (April 21, 2023)

A sea of baby blue T-shirts flood the Tate Student Center Plaza and cheerful music in a foreign language rings throughout. Blue and white flags with the geometric Star of David hang throughout brick archways and the scent of falafel flows through the air. Israeli pride is widely displayed for students to spectate and participate in as Hillel at the University of Georgia’s annual “Israel Fest” returns to Athens.

Although Athens may not appear to be a hotspot for Israeli culture at first glance, this week provides an opportunity for culture and celebration. “Israel Week” is a weeklong celebration commemorating Israeli culture and traditions.

Israel Week is a fundamental part of Hillel’s objective, as the student-run organization strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students.

The festivities kicked off Monday with a group Hebrew lesson at the Tate Center Starbucks.

Tuesday, however, marked a day of reflection for Jews across the world. Hillel honored Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, by inviting Judy Schancupp, the speaker escort from The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, to the Miller Learning Center.

Staff and students gathered in complete silence in room 213 of the MLC. Dozens of students listened intently as she depicted the harrowing experiences of a young woman’s plight and perseverance.

“It’s important that people never forget what happened,” said Schancupp, who travels the nation reciting her relative, Itka’s, story of survival. “We need to understand how evil people can be.”

To sophomore Hillel member Shani Gilad, Holocaust remembrance means keeping history alive.

“[It is] unheard of in the grand scheme of atrocities that have happened in the world,” Gilad said.

The state of Israel, which was formed after the Holocaust in 1948, became a symbol of Jewish unity after World War II. In continuation of celebrating and remembering Jewish lives, Dawgs for Israel, a campus organization sponsored by Hillel, hosted Israel Fest, a celebration of Israeli culture at UGA on Thursday.

Tables with members of multiple Semitic organizations on campus assembled in a large circle spanning the inside of the Tate Center Plaza. Booths held games, crafts, trivia and brief information sessions pertaining to Israeli customs.

“This is one of the days of the year that we get to just all band together and be proud of [Israeli culture] and show it off and be super vocal. I love it,” Aiden Erez, a former member of the Israeli Defense Force and current UGA senior, said.

Booths featured members of organizations such as Mishelanu, who are dedicated to connecting Israeli students on campus and strengthening their heritage. The group taught students how to spell their names in Hebrew, then beaded bracelets with the letters inscribed on them.

Other tables provided traditional and modern foods like falafel and Bamba, a popular peanut butter flavored snack manufactured in Kiryat Gat, Israel. Another was manned by Erez himself, who recounted his experience as a soldier in the Israeli military and presented his uniform to listeners.

“Israel Fest is a celebration of Israeli culture -- all facets of it,” Erez said. “It feels heartwarming.”

Israel Week will come to a close Friday night at the Hillel building with their weekly Shabbat services and dinner. This Shabbat service will be focused on pride in the LGBTQ+ community.

Hillel is devoted to providing students with an authentic Jewish and Israeli cultural experience for all to enjoy and learn from.

“I am part of this group of people that have been through so much, and the traditions of Judaism mean so much to me,” Gilad said.

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