Israelis and the Independence Day Barbecue: Cooking Up an Annual Tradition

April 19, 2018

3 min read

Israel Independence Day is a “massive party for all Am Yisrael,” according to Ari Kalker, director of housing and special projects for the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin.

Kalker and his team have been running a barbecue for 1,000 lone soldiers each year for nearly a decade at Sacher Park, the largest public park in the center of Jerusalem, near the neighborhoods of Kiryat Wolfson and Nachlaot.

Kalker said the experience—a combination of Fourth of July and Memorial Day festivities, with Frisbee, soccer, music and lots of food—is a national Israeli Independence tradition for as long as he can remember.

This year, the Lone Soldier Center will be moo-ving its festivities up a notch. For one, the center will have its barbecue prepared by the chef of Crave Gourmet Street Food, a popular new restaurant in Jerusalem’s shuk. Beyond that, the chef will be grilling an entire cow (he plans to use all of it) donated by Havat Maon. The hormone-free meat will be delivered to Crave three days before Independence Day.

“Every year, we go through around 500 kilos [more than 1,000 pounds] of chicken and meat—more than an entire cow,” said Kalker. “This year, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we just got an entire cow? It will be more efficient and more humane.”

According to Ronen Neuwirth, it’s also much more fitting for Israel Independence Day.

Neuwirth, the rabbi of Ohel Ari Congregation in Ra’anana and the executive director of Beit Hillel: Attentive Spiritual Leadership, said the Independence Day barbecues were predicted 137 years ago by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, otherwise known as the Sfat Emet.

“The Sfat Emet wrote a piece in which he explained there are three Torah festivals—Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot—that gave the Jews the ability to create thee of their own festivals,” explained Neuwirth. “In that piece, the rabbi said that one day the Jews will be redeemed and be back in Israel, and they will celebrate the third festival that will be inspired by Passover.

“Passover is the original Independence Day,” he continued, “and the way we originally celebrated Passover was that people went up to Jerusalem, and they got together in groups and had a barbecue, with the Passover offering as the highlight of the meal.”

‘Coming together to celebrate something’

The first Chanukah celebration was a delayed Sukkot observance. The second book of Maccabees quotes from a letter sent circa 125 BCE from the Hasmoneans, descendants of the Maccabees, to the leaders of Egyptian Jewry, describing the holiday as “the festival of Sukkot celebrated in the month of Kislev rather than Tishrei.” Since the Jews were still in caves fighting as guerrillas on Tishrei in 164 BCE, they had been unable to honor the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, which required visiting the Jerusalem Temple. Hence, it was postponed until after the recapture of Jerusalem and rededication of the Temple.

Purim and Shavuot are connected. The Torah was given to the Jews on Mount Sinai, and according to some Chassidic teachings, it was not until 800 years later, at the story of Purim, that the Jewish people collectively and willingly accepted the Torah without “coercion.” In the Megillah (9:27), it states: “[The Jews] affirmed and accepted … ” (They affirmed what they once accepted many years beforehand.)

Neuwirth said that for the first time today since the destruction of the Temple, the biggest concentration of Jews is living in Israel, and that by 2022, it is expected that most Jews will be living in Israel.

“The prophecies are coming true; they are happening in our time. If Passover is chag herut—the Festival of Freedom—Yom Ha’atzmaut is our Pesach, in our time,” he said. “The founding of the State of Israel and all that has happened since is the biggest miracle in Israel.”

Ezra Wanetik expressed similar sentiments. He immigrated to Israel from New York City in 2002, but said he has been hosting Independence Day barbecues even before he made aliyah because he has “always seen it as an important holiday,” on par with the Jewish pilgrimage festivals.

“Independence Day barbecues are about fun and community-building,” said Wanetik, who is so into his freedom cookouts that when he renovated his Jerusalem home, he hooked up a gas line directly to the grill. Each year on Independence Day (and on most, if not all, of the pilgrimage festivals), he serves up a combination of chicken breasts, wings, steaks, hot dogs, hamburgers and fresh veggies.

“It’s about coming together to celebrate something,” said Wanetik.

Added Neuwirth: “On Yom Ha’atzmaut, we should lift our eyes [to God] and be grateful.”

By: Maayan Hoffman

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