Home July 2014 Oy Vey League

Oy Vey League

When iFest started at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), it may have had something to do with the fact that Jewish students wanted to have a big event that would make them feel better about Muslim students bringing controversial speakers to campus. Today, iFest is simply “a week-long celebration of Israeli culture that brings fun, food, learning and a sense of community pride to the campus,” according to Jackie Zelener, a junior public health major who serves on the board of Anteaters for Israel.
iFest, supporters say, stands on its own to emphasize the positive aspects of life in Israel and the innovative ideas that Israel offers the rest of the world. It gives people, from casual passersby to those highly involved in events, a chance to learn something while eating Israeli food or winning prizes. This year, the parties, concerts and other activities engaged nearly 1,000 students ­— some Jewish and some not — in one way or another. Members of the Orange County Jewish community supported and attended the events as well.
Many hands and many months of planning went into the celebration, which was coordinated by Anteaters for Israel, the pro-Israel group on campus that celebrates the culture, diversity and achievements of Israel. Twelve other organizations — Camera, StandWithUs, Zionist Organization of America, Chabad, Hasbara, Men of Reform Judaism, MASA, AEPI, AEPHI, Hillel at UCI, Rose Project and Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) — were sponsors of various events at iFest.
The iFest week, which went from Friday, May 2, to Thursday, May 8, had a little of everything. It began with a Shabbat dinner and service sponsored by Chabad UCI.
Monday’s iFest events included “Pizza, Politics and Parasha” co-sponsored with Chabad; “Israel — The Land and the Spirit”; a movie screening of “A Hero in Heaven” co-sponsored with College Republicans; a Q&A with politicians; and then Pub Night and Trivia at the Anthill Pub.
Most of the Tuesday events were on Ring Road in the center of campus, including a festival with tabling, games, a free barbecue and a Krav Maga class. People could answer a trivia question and get a T-shirt or a tank top. The barbecue, sponsored by Chabad, gave people hot dogs and hamburgers with little flags containing factoids about Israel. Four hundred people got to learn something about “why we need to support Israel along with their piece of kosher meat,” according to Miriam Tenenbaum, wife of Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum of Chabad UCI. While the students ate, there was a guest speaker at the flagpoles. An Israeli Krav Maga Self Defense Class in Aldrich Park followed later in the day.
On Wednesday, AFI, Hillel at UCI and the Department of Jewish Studies welcomed Dr. Barbara Glück, who spoke about the Mauthausen concentration camp and how it relates to the Jewish community. Dr. Gluck is the director at the Mauthausen Memorial in Austria and is currently serving as the Ben and Zelda Cohen Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C .
The week wrapped up on Thursday with another festival on Ring Road and  a free concert given by Rabbi Blue, who does Jewish songs with a hip beat. Hundreds of students attended the venue party, which the organizers called “a very successful event.”
“While we have no exact way to measure the impact of iFest, it was very well received,” said Rabbi Tenenbaum, who acts as advisor to AFI. “It boosts morale for Jewish students on campus as far as having a voice, and it does a decent job of reaching out to the UCI community at large to show the real facts about Israel. All of the activities show what a multicultural and tolerant place Israel is, and the students seem receptive.”
Rabbi Tenenbaum, who has been on the campus for five years, thinks that Jewish student life at UCI is “going in the right direction.” He cited the contributions of JFFS and the Rose Project, as well as collaborations between Hillel and Chabad and other organizations that make Jewish students feel welcome. There are often 70 or 80 students at Shabbat dinners and many more for events such as iFest.
“Jewish life on this campus is thriving,” he said. “The students feel that they have support, infrastructure and a safe haven. They have people to turn to and places to go.”
Both Rabbi Tenenbaum and Brad Erbesfield, the assistant director of Orange County Hillel, were impressed with the way the students ran the iFest events. According to Erbesfield, “We collaborate as a community, working together where and when we can. The AFI board is passionate about Israel in so many different ways. It’s a lot of hard work, and you have to really want to do this.  There’s a lot of setup, cleanup, promotion and organization involved.”
Erbesfield also praised the students for finding ways to insert learning into fun events. “All in all, iFest is a great cultural celebration,” he said.

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