Israelis from Union to Mercer counties gathered in a Freehold park for the first event of a new organization for Israeli-Americans.
For more than five hours on Sept. 26, the 80 participants shared in the kinds of foods, activities, and culture they knew growing up.
The event also had a tzedaka component. Teams named for Israeli cities competed at Turkey Swamp Park for a chance to give to one of three charities benefitting Israel: the Jewish National Fund, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, or Hadassah.
Organizers of the new group, called Kesher, say a main goal is to teach their American-raised children about their Israeli roots.
“We want to give our kids the traditions we grew up with,” said event cochair Raya Benhaim of Highland Park. “We want to give our kids a taste of Israeli culture. ‘Kesher’ means keeping in touch or connection and that’s what we want to do.”
The event’s other chair, Tmima Grinvald of Marlboro, said future activities would probably include one or more holiday events.
“It may be Sukkot or it may be Yom Ha’aztmaut,” Israel Independence Day, said Grinvald. “It’s not just about teaching, but experiencing. The reaction has been great, especially from the kids. They are asking, ‘When are you going to do it again?’ People came and brought their friends.”
A highlight of the afternoon was a talent show, which was top-heavy with children singing and break-dancing.
Hebrew-language board games were stacked on a picnic table, where five or six youngsters sat playing. Children took turns walking around in a large JNF tzedaka box costume. Adults chatted in Hebrew while sampling an array of homemade food.
“Next time there is going to be a lot more people,” predicted Ofer Elshten of Aberdeen. “This was beautiful. It was not like a regular Jewish party.”
Although everyone asked gave the day a thumbs up, the children who were interviewed were unsure just how much Israeli culture they absorbed.
“The truth is, I already know about Israel because of my mom,” said Noa Vitenson, 10, of Springfield. “We go to Israel every summer so I know pretty much everything.”
Omri Shayer, 12, of Manalapan was standing with several other youths and shrugged his shoulders when asked what he learned about Israeli culture.
“I’m here with my friends and having fun,” he said. “I didn’t really learn anything.”
Grinvald said the group will decide in the coming weeks about its next gathering.
(Those interested in becoming involved in Kesher should contact Grinvald at firstname.lastname@example.org.)