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UNC Hillel's annual Israel Day provides space for Jewish students to celebrate heritage

North Carolina Hillel, a proposed on-campus voting site, pictured Thursday.
North Carolina Hillel is pictured Thursday, Feb. 12, 2014.

At UNC Hillel’s annual Israel Day on Friday, students gathered to celebrate and learn more about the nation's culture.

The event, which was open to all UNC students, included a variety of professor and student-led workshops, along with booths from Heels for Israel, Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau and the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies.

“It’s been tough on UNC’s campus — especially this past year — to be proudly Jewish, and especially for Israeli students here at UNC it’s been really tough,” Max Pollack, a senior who attended Israel Day, said. “It’s nice to be able to have a space where Jews and Israelis can be proudly Jewish and Israeli without getting harassed or intimidated.”

Pollack came to show his support of the event and spend time with friends. Alana Goldman, senior and Israel chair at UNC Hillel, said the event, which in previous years has been held on the Quad, was hosted at the UNC Hillel building on West Cameron Avenue due to safety concerns.

During the event, Goldman paused to lead dozens of attendees in the Jewish Shema prayer and a moment of silence.

“It was important to me to lead a moment of silence because although we wanted to continue our annual tradition of holding an Israel event, we recognize that there is so much pain and suffering going on right now, both in Israel and in Gaza,” Goldman said.

After meeting with leaders of Jewish and Israel-related clubs, she gathered feedback about what they wanted the day to look like this year and created a schedule.

The afternoon kicked off with a talk by Jodi Magness, a UNC professor in the department of religious studies, who spoke about Israeli archaeology and her excavations in the ancient Jewish Huqoq village in Israel. She said the event organizers asked her to speak about her experience. Pollack said Magness’ talk made him wish he had taken one of her classes before graduating.

“I’m glad to see students are celebrating together,” Magness said.

Michael Wagner, a sophomore and vice president of UNC Hillel, spoke about his experience volunteering with his family in Israel over winter break. Wagner said he worked in the Tel Aviv area to pick, sort, package and cook produce, which primarily went to displaced families in the region.

“I really enjoyed volunteering a lot,” Wagner said. “I liked seeing just how many people were coming to help.”

Wagner said he has always appreciated his Jewish identity and feels he is part of a unique community. He said the Israel Day celebration, like most other UNC Hillel events, had a fun atmosphere, with a variety of discussions and snacks provided.

Attendees also decorated mosaic tiles to form an art piece to be displayed in the UNC Hillel building, which was inspired by the “Path to Peace” mosaic creation adorning the border wall that divides the Gaza Strip and Israel.

“I really just want to stress that the point of this event is to educate on Israeli culture and allow people to experience it, but also to hold space for everything going on,” Goldman said.

The night ended with an Israeli folk dancing lesson led by Hebrew teaching associate professor Hanna Sprintzik and a raffle drawing for prizes, including a Hillel swag bag and an Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews gift card.

Pollack said he has a lot of friends and family in Israel, and these events provide a way to feel connected to the culture.

“It’s making space for Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.

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