Julie Ufberg of Elkins Park describes the 2009 Israel Independence Day celebration at Penn's Landing as "the luckiest day in my life." Ufberg was the grand-prize winner of two round-trip tickets to Israel, provided by El Al Israel Airlines, a platinum sponsor of the free community festival, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Ufberg will present the winning tickets to another lucky individual at this year's event on Sunday, May 23, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at Penn's Landing.
Ufberg and her cousin, Debra Hutz of Chadds Ford, recently returned from their Israel adventure. It was the first time that either woman had visited the Jewish homeland as an adult. Ufberg says that so much has changed since her last trip more than a decade ago, when she participated in a high school study program.
"We traveled to Petra in Jordan -- an impossibility in '96-'97, when the borders between the two nations were closed," she explains.
She notes that the airline staff was gracious and accommodating: "I am so grateful to El Al and to Federation for putting together this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The May 23 festival will feature entertainment throughout the afternoon. From 1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., the Drexel University Mediterranean Ensemble, under the direction of Bruce Kaminsky, will perform music from North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.
They will be joined by members of Atzilut, a 10-member group of Arab and Jewish musicians who have performed to Christian, Muslim and Jewish audiences internationally since 2006. The group features vocals from Cantor Jack Kessler and Roger Mgrdichian on oud, an ancient musical instrument described as the "grandfather of the guitar."
At 3 p.m., the Idan Raichel Project will perform in concert. The group, which first entered Israel's music scene in 2002, fuses African, Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds with sophisticated production techniques to present a live show that has played to sold-out audiences all over the globe.
Also as part of the grand day out, more than 20 vendors will display and sell art, Judaica, jewelry, crafts and more. In addition, some 35 Jewish and Israeli organizations from throughout the Delaware Valley will help those in attendance connect to the Jewish community.
No one should go hungry, either, as food for every taste and budget will be available for sale. Along with traditional festival fare such as popcorn, ice-cream and French fries, there will be Israeli comfort foods like falafel and burekas. Fresh-baked goods will also be on hand.
Young adults from the Satell Teen Fellowship for Leadership and Social Activism, a program of the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, will staff a children's tent to keep the youngest festival-goers entertained and engaged. There will be face-painting, Israel trivia games, arts-and-crafts activities and more. Children will also be encouraged to write notes to be placed in the Western Wall by Satell students during their trip to Israel in June.
The event is made possible through Federation's sponsors, which, in addition to El Al, include Blank Rome LLP; the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation; PECO; the Jewish Exponent; KYW Newsradio; the American Jewish Committee; ShopRite; and Zarwin, Baum, Devito, Kaplan, Schaer, Toddy P.C.
And bring your sunscreen or your umbrella; the festival will be held rain or shine.
For more information, call Beth Razin at 215-832-0536 or go online to: JewishPhilly.org/Israel 62.