Local Jews gathered to observe two major events in Israel's growing history.
SARASOTA — The Sarasota Jewish community used Sunday's celebrations of the Israeli Independence Day — Yom Ha'atzmaut — for fellowship and learning.
Rabbi Elaine Glickman said that at Temple Emanu-El, their school building was transformed so each room represented a different ethnic group or culture that lives in Israel. She said for Jews alive today, they have never known the thousands of years when Israelis had no place to call home.
"For 2,000 years Jews longed to have a homeland," Glickman said. That is such a long time, and 70 years since Israel was founded is just the blink of an eye. The students who came to the program Sunday don't know life without Israel; most of their parents don't know life without Israel. We wanted to have a program about what a miraculous blessing it is to live in this time."
Temple Emanu-El Religious School Director of Education Sabrina Silverberg, who was born in Egypt, organized the event called "The Many Faces of Israel." Her family fled Egypt for safety in the newly-formed nation.
"We had kids literally dragging their parents from station-to-station," Glickman said. "They wanted to see more, taste more and do more. The kids were learning, the parents were learning and they were just having a wonderful time. It was a really special morning."
Jewish emissary Maor Ben-Arie, a community shaliach for the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee visiting from Israel, hosted a celebration of the Israeli nation and a remembrance for Holocaust victims at the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota County.
The Jewish-observed Holocaust Memorial Day — Yom Hashoah — was April 11-12 and commemorates the death and suffering of more than 6 million Jews by the Nazis.
"Israel is 70 years old," said emissary Ben-Arie. "It's just an opportunity to bring our whole community together in celebration. We had lots of activities and food for our families, old people, young people, babies, everybody."
The event included a cook making authentic falafels and Israeli folk dancing.
"We had a cake and sang happy birthday," Ben-Arie said. "Imagine a big birthday party, a big community birthday party."
Hundreds attended the event despite a tornado warning that was issued at the same time it was set to begin. It affected families in western Manatee County.
"I think a lot of people in the Jewish community were expecting this event," Ben-Arie said. "The fact we can get families of all ages together and celebrate the Israeli Jewish state, I had so much fun today. It took us a long time to get through the first month of the country, but now we've done 70 years."
The emissary said the jubilant atmosphere wasn't much different than celebrations in Israel.
Susan and Ken Beck of Sarasota brought their two children to the county-wide event. They said it gave them an opportunity to meet Jewish communities outside their own temple.
"Unless you have a county-wide event like this you don't get to know other Jews in the area," Susan Beck said. "You are kind of isolated. ... It's a nice way to get to be familiar with all the people in the area."