Rita Rocks Yom Ha'atzmaut Celebration

Tags: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Events

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Children sit on the edge of the stage as Rita performs before 1,500 fans.

by Jonah Rosenblum

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

Israeli pop icon Rita's first appearance in Northeast Ohio had 'em dancing in the aisles.

Rita performed at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights May 12 as the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and other local agencies celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut.

“It was perfect,” Jewish Federation of Cleveland president Stephen H. Hoffman said in the afterglow of the event. “I’ve been a fan (of Rita) for many, many years. I love her music. I love her voice.”

Rita told the crowd of 1,500 that her Cleveland performance marked the first time she wasn’t in Israel for Yom Ha'atzmaut, celebrating the anniversary of Israel’s independence.

“I’m very proud to bring Israel here to Cleveland,” Rita said.

Rita was joined by a number of fellow Israelis, including members of the Israel Defense Forces, who danced feverishly and sang along with many of her songs.

“It’s so much fun,” Israel Defense Forces Maj. Khaled Ghanim said. “It’s so good for me to dance here in Cleveland.”

“It was a very fun night,” added fellow soldier Alex Chen. “It’s amazing – the people together and the energy.”

The night was about more than just Rita. Before the pop icon took the stage, some 2,500 people milled around a wide variety of stations, including a number of Israeli and kosher food stations, a number of shops selling their wares and a number of groups touting their cause.

Jodilyn Solomon of Chester Township, who noshed on Texas smoked brisket and mini kugel, called the food “amazing.”

“I’ve never had anything like it,” she said.

Across the room, Kevin Trangle of Pepper Pike enjoyed barbecue pulled chicken and beef. His son made aliyah 10 years ago and Trangle said his connection to Israel runs deep.

“I feel as much Israeli as I feel American actually,” Trangle said.

Col. Ran Keinan of the IDF said the warmth shown toward him and his fellow Israeli soldiers left a strong impression. He added that it would be hard to leave Cleveland following their four-day visit.

“I want to thank the Cleveland community,” Keinan said. “All the people are warm. They are lovely. They hug us. We feel like they love us with all their hearts.

“It gives me, as an officer and as a citizen of Israel, a great strength to know that someone is there watching us and taking care of us.”

“It’s always very special to have the IDF delegation with us,” Hoffman said. “They learn a lot about what it means to be Jewish in the diaspora and how much we care for them and for Israel. It’s kind of a revelation to many of them. At the same time, they do a lot for us because they bring us their special sense of pride in the state. It’s not politics for the soldiers.”

Sponsors included the Federation, Benesch, Event Source, Landerhaven and The Cleveland Jewish News.

Learn More: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Events