Following last week’s CultureFest and TASA’s Night Market, Tech’s Jewish student organization GT Hillel hosted its IsraelFest Tuesday, April 13, at the Campanile, attracting approximately 600 people to the free activities and cultural information opportunities.
“We wanted to give the appeal of Israel in modern society,” said Eran Mordel, first-year ISyE and Israel programming co-vice president with GT Hillel. “Our focus of IsraelFest, unlike many other campuses, was about Israel and technology, because that’s what applies to Georgia Tech.”
The attractions throughout the four-hour event were a live musical performance by Axum, informational booths staffed by about 25 GT Hillel officers and members, Israeli foods, henna tattoos, Kacey (a dromedary camel from Sam’s Path Petting Zoo) and Matkot, a tennis-like game played on the beach with large wooden paddles.
Axum—a hiphop duo from Netanya and Tel Aviv, Israel—performed from 11 p.m.-12 p.m.. The duo is currently on tour at campuses with chapters of Hillels of Georgia, such as Tech and Emory University; their music page, with several songs , can be found on Myspace at myspace.com/axumisrael.
While they performed, foods such as falafel, Bissli, Bamba, hummus and pita bread were available to snack on as students visited various booths showcasing different facets of Israeli culture and life. Booths showcased cultural landmarks and social issues as well as scientific ventures and products unique to Israel, such as Ahava – an Israeli cosmetics company that derives its products from compounds from the Dead Sea.
“If you look at the displays it talked about water conservation, new energy development, and… there were no political displays other than information displays about the military. It’s an all-inclusive, non partisan event,” Mordel said.
IsraelFest is GT Hillel’s largest event of the year. Their two Israel programming vice-presidents, Mordel and Mitchell Blenden, assembled a committee of about 20 people, officers and Hillel members alike and met periodically throughout the semester. The group spent most of the Spring semester and some of Fall semester brainstorming, making calls and ordering services to take care of IsraelFest.
“[IsraelFest] has been going on for at least six years, and it’s evolved over time. It used to be that IsraelFest was an event on a Thursday night and now it’s a huge event during the day with a band,” Mordel said.
The IsraelFest committee sponsored the event with outside grants, funding from SGA, the Israeli Consulate, the David Project (a national Jewish leadership organization), Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and the members’ own resources.
Mordel contributes to general events for GT Hillel about once per three weeks, like providing Kosher meals for Passover and monthly Friday services. As co-vice presidents of Israeli programming, Mordel and Blenden are now working on bringing a speaker to campus and possibly planning an Israeli game night.
GT Hillel is the Tech chapter of Hillels of Georgia, which itself is a subgroup of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life—also known as Hillel or Hillel International. Hillel-oriented organizations provide opportunities for Jewish students at over 500 universities all over the world. Hillels of Georgia include Hillel at Tech, Kennesaw State University, University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Emory University, and it partners with students at these universities to provide programs and grants for academic and community events.
“We have a lot of philanthropic events, and we work with [other campuses with Hillels of Georgia]. We had a party in January at Emory at their new house, and to plan the party all the [Hillel] groups came together and raised money,” Mordel said, “We all hold the organization together and plan events throughout the year, but as far as different campuses go, we are autonomous.”
GT Hillel in particular is sponsored by faculty member Shira Rothman, Director of Jewish Student Life. Rothman often helps them with legal matters, professional ties and personal experience with planning events such as IsraelFest.
“[Rothman] is a fabulous person, extremely helpful, and we would probably fall apart without her help,” Mordel said, “She’s the backbone of our organization.”