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Israeli-Americans celebrate heritage at festival

The Celebrate Israel Festival at The Venetian gave hundreds of the valley’s Jewish and Israeli residents a chance to celebrate their heritage and connect with local resources Sunday.

The event was part of a national series of festivals taking place this month, and the Israeli-American Council said it will hold similar events in Los Angeles, Boston, Miami and New York that are expected to draw more than 50,000 people nationwide in support of Israel and its 67th Independence Day, officially held April 23 in Israel.

Attendees were greeted by a member of the Tzofim Israel Scouts, a youth organization for Israeli-Americans. The boys and girls passed out small Israeli flags and ran around the convention space with their friends.

Modeled after an open-air bazaar in Jerusalem, the resource fair featured booths with information about local Jewish schools, summer camps and synagogues. There were tables to shop for jewelry, clothing and home decorations.

There were areas for children to play video games and do arts and crafts. There was a petting zoo and a re-creation of a Tel Aviv beach scene — with sand and with a bar for the adults. The Judah’s Kosher Grill food truck was parked inside to serve shredded beef hoagies and knockwurst. And Israeli pop star Shlomi Shabat performed in The Venetian Theater.

“As Israeli-Americans we know the richness of Israeli culture, food and music, and we wanted to share what we love about Israel with the Las Vegas community,” Amir Eden, regional director of IAC’s Las Vegas office, said.

While most of the free event focused on family fun, a considerable chunk of the showroom was devoted to the history of Jerusalem and the people of Israel. Dozens of attendees took turns watching a 3-D movie about the 3,000-year Jewish history of Jerusalem in one tent, and there was a 32-foot-long replica of the Western Wall — the most sacred place in Judaism. Anyone could place a note in the wall, as is the custom, with the notes to be delivered to the actual Western Wall.

Avi Baldasare, a 28-year-old tour guide in Jerusalem, made the trip to Las Vegas to give lectures about the historical and religious significance of the Western Wall. He said the wall became a popular destination for Jewish travelers in the 1950s, and thousands of people of all faiths and ethnicities are drawn to the site every year.

Baldasare explained how the first great temple was built north of the city by King Solomon but was destroyed by Babylonians. Then it was rebuilt but destroyed by Romans before the city came under the control of Muslims. The Western Wall is the only piece of the ancient temple that survives, was the closest to the holiest part of the temple and has since become a symbol to Jewish people around the world of their historic homeland and exile, he said.

“Jerusalem is a place that connects everybody,” he said. “It inspires people from all over the world. People come to Jerusalem and feel something special. A lot of times it’s hard to put into words.”

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.

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