A day to celebrate Israel’s past, future and presence

Yom Ha’atzmaut 2017

With everything from a rousing hour-long school-wide prayer service to an Israeli pop singer, Shalhevet commemorated Israel’s 69th birthday this past May 2nd on Yom Haatzmaut by celebrating its past, its present and its future.

A veteran IDF soldier from the country’s early days in the early and mid 20th-century spoke movingly of his time fighting for Israel in its pre-state years. The prayer service featured male and female students on opposite sides of the mechitza singing and yelling lyrics to prayers and Hebrew chants, all while jumping, dancing and waving huge Israeli flags, sometimes perched precariously on top of each other’s shoulders.

“So it’s a day that celebrates their acts and accomplishments,” said sophomore Ari Sassover. “But it’s also a day for everyone to just enjoy Israel’s presence.”

In the middle of the prayer service, Arik Baharav spoke. A Polish immigrant to Israel in 1930, he became a squad commander in the Palmach before Israel was granted statehood. It was a reminder for the audience that as ancient as Israel is, the State of Israel is still new, and some of its first fighters are still alive to tell the tale.

Yossi Finn, junior Sarina Finn’s father, brought him to Shalhevet. Yossi’s uncle is a member of the Garden of Palms Assisted Living Retirement Community, where Baharav also stays. It was there that Mr. Finn was introduced to the veteran.

Baharav’s father was a rabbi in Poland, and had planned for his son to become a rabbi as well. But when he read Mein Kampf, he realized Poland would not be a safe place for Jews, and moved the family to Israel in 1930, when Arik Baharav was just under 10 years old. He fought in Palmach in the 1930s and 1940s as a teenager and young adult.

“I thought that this was a remarkable experience,” Reb Weissman told the Boiling Point. “Because when you have a gibor — hero — from the founding of the state of Israel, we’re not going to have those survivors much longer. So to have someone who made Medinat Yisrael for us, and we reap the benefits from him, it’s just such a tremendous opportunity.”

A short but tough man in his late 90s, Mr. Baharav was able to stand at the bima on his own and reminisce about his days in the army.

Students interviewed after the festivities seemed to have been moved.

“I think Yom Ha’atzmaut represents the fact that the smallest nation and people can still persevere while everybody is trying to go against them,” said freshman Ethan Mayouhas. “And it just inspires me to do my best in everyday life.”  

The first thing to happen after davening was a performance by the Choirhawks, followed by a free breakfast of bagels, fruit and sweet pastries on the third floor patio.

Then the gym turned into a funky dance room for Israeli popstar Chen Aharoni to perform covers of American and Israeli songs, as well as some of his own original works.

After a few ballads, students were invited on stage to sing along.

First period was cancelled for the ceremony and classes were shortened for the rest of the day. The program continued the following Sunday with a march from Rancho Park to the citywide Israel festival, also at Rancho Park.