Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Israel Festival draws estimated 8,000
PEMBROKE PINES — As musical acts kicked the crowd into a dancing frenzy and two single-engine prop planes circled overhead with tethered Israeli and U.S. flags, the aroma of hamburgers from the kosher food court beckoned.
The Celebrate Israel Festival, held at C.B. Smith Park, drew an estimated 8,000 people, making it the largest Jewish gathering in South Florida since 2001, organizers said.
The theme that reverberated throughout the grounds was unity and celebration of heritage and culture.
“This is a beautiful thing for the Israeli community; this is a very important day for us to celebrate independence,” said Adam Shamesh, 32, of Coral Springs, who attended with his wife Sara Shamesh, 30, and two children. Independence Day was April 23.
The Israeli-American Council organized the festival, the first of similar events scheduled for Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston and New York.
“These are very difficult times for Jews around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise,” said Miriam Alpern, spokeswoman for the Israeli American Council. “The fact there is an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel at a time like this, the opportunity to celebrate Israel’s independence is something we embrace.”
The event had a little bit of everything. One booth displayed a luxury car that was raffled, another was a karaoke station, and others booths sold trinkets, T-shirts and artwork.
The festival featured a Mahane Yehuda Market that was styled after the sprawling outdoor marketplace in Jerusalem and a replica of the Western Wall.
“Wow, this is a lot bigger than I thought,” said Stein, who found out about the event through the Jewish Federation of Broward County.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel tweeted that he enjoyed the festival.
“We like to be a part of all community events that support Israel,” said Hillary Stein, 36, of Hollywood, whose brother-inlaw is Israeli.