Spirits – and the energy – were high as Ottawa’s Jewish community converged on the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC), April 23, to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. This year’s celebration marked the 67th anniversary of the establishment of the modern state.
About 900 people, many dressed in blue and white, packed every floor of the SJCC.
“Every hallway is filled with people celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut. It’s incredible,” said Mitch Miller, chair of the SJCC Board of Directors.
Yosi Levy and The Sabras Band, California-based musicians who play Israeli, Sephardic and klezmer songs started a dance party in the social hall while a family entertainment area was set up in the gym on the lower level.
Hundreds of kids and their families got their faces painted while entertainers made balloon animals and performed tricks on unicycles and with hula hoops at an interactive circus school. A variety of activity stations were also popular throughout the evening, including an inflatable obstacle course, Israeli-themed crafts, and hockey games.
“We made sure that the entertainment was the best,” said Penny Torontow, the Yom Ha’Atzmaut committee chair.
Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak joined in on the dance party after receiving an Israeli hockey jersey from Miller in recognition of the country’s recent participation in an International Ice Hockey Federation-sanctioned tournament in South Africa. Miller is also an organizer of the Canada-Israel Hockey School in Metula.
“We are very fortunate,” to be the generation who experiences Israel as an independent, internationally-recognized state after 2,000 years of dreams, Barak said, also expressing his gratitude to the Ottawa Jewish community for its support of Israel after a turbulent summer of hostilities from Hamas in Gaza.
For Naomi Lipsky Cracower, the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations symbolized coming home in many different ways. Recently returned to Ottawa after a busy year of travel, she said enjoying the celebrations in the SJCC “feels great, it’s comfortable.”
“I think it’s just a very happy, proud time for everybody here. Just seeing pride and the happiness in the kids and grandkids, it’s just wonderful,” she said.
Lipsky Cracower said she has visited Israel regularly since 1968 and has seen many changes as Israel has evolved. She plans to return to Israel this summer for the first time in four years.
“Penny Torontow is one of those outstanding volunteers,” Miller said in announcing she was stepping down as Yom Ha’Atzmaut committee chair after eight years.
“During the day, she might be helping someone sell or buy their next home, but over the last eight years, she’s ensured that our community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration always had a home and that every venue felt like home.”
“It’s like I’m letting my baby go,” Torontow said, “but I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think it’s time for new ideas; a new broom sweeps clean.”
Next year’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut committee chair has not yet been named.
Earlier in the day, dignitaries – including Mayor Jim Watson, Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, and U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman – joined about 100 members of Ottawa’s Jewish community for a ceremony at Marion Dewar Square in front of Ottawa City Hall as the Israeli flag was raised to mark Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Photos from the flag-raising are at this link.