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Event goes from darkness to light — and lots of it
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Event goes from darkness to light — and lots of it

In true Israeli style, the Central community marked the country’s 64th birthday April 25 in an event that transitioned from somber memorial to party mode.

The double event, hosted by the YM-YWHA of Union County, was cosponsored by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey with funding from Sam and Gladys Halpern and Clara Kramer. It drew in one of the largest crowds ever, according to the organizers — well over 200 people.

Israeli emissary Natalie Elgrabli and Adina Abramov, the federation’s marketing and communications director, joined forces with the Y leadership to shape the program.

It opened with personal reminders both of the price paid for Israel’s survival, and the ongoing strength of its military.

Elgrabli described her service as an army reservist with the Israel Defense Forces. She was assigned to go to the homes of soldiers’ families to break bad news — of an abduction, a serious injury, or a death.

“The position is voluntary,” she said. “It can’t be done any other way.” What you tell the families, she said, changes their lives, creating an irrevocable “before and after.”

Cantor Ira Heller sang “El Maleh Rachamim,” and Marvin Rosensweig, whose son Michael is serving in the IDF’s Golani Brigade, recited the Prayer for the Welfare of Soldiers, accompanied by other members of the community who have or have had relatives in the forces.

Another IDF veteran, Ari Lowell of Hillside, and Rosensweig both spoke of the familial warmth and support Israelis give those in the army. “I was struck by just how much the Israeli army has a Jewish soul,” Lowell said.

Then the atmosphere turned festive. The JEC Yeshiva choir, led by Chana Solomon, sang a trio of songs that were Israel’s entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. And when they fired up the colorful laser show by Olam DJ’s Uri Abramov and Shai BenBaruch, the young — and the not-so-young — celebrants danced till way past the usual school-night time.

To get a taste of being in service to Israel, kids had the opportunity to pose for photographs wearing an IDF uniform. Zachary Lemberg, 11, of Westfield was the first one up, with shoulders squared. Deena Aflalo, 10, of Elizabeth, tried next — but she said she didn’t really know whether she wanted to join the army for real.

Abramov said, “By having the Yom Hazikaron ceremony precede the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for the first time, we were able to engage school-age children in the lessons of remembrance. It was impressive how attentively they sat during the speeches, multimedia, and even prayers on behalf of the IDF soldiers.

“It was a great opportunity for education, not just celebration, and that was most gratifying.”

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