A bit of Israeli culture came to Howard County on Sunday by way of Tel Aviv, Rockville and Baltimore. The Jewish Federation of Howard County and the Baltimore Zionist District sponsored an "Israel Cafe" at Kahler Hall in Columbia's Harper's Choice. About 100 people gathered for a festive evening of authentic Israeli food and folk dancing.
The emphasis was on having fun while showing support for Israel and the Jewish community.
"It's an Israeli cafe, a social evening - an evening for the Jews of Howard County and anybody else who enjoys Israeli food and Israeli company to get together and socialize," said Janet Goldstein of Ellicott City, a board member of the Jewish Federation.
"It's to bring, really, Israeli culture [to Howard County] to make some bridges between Israel and the community here," said Ariane Aronhime, director of education and programming for the Baltimore Zionist District.
Columbians Gail and Jerry Glazer, who are on the board of the BZD, helped to organize Sunday's event. Gail Glazer recalled that the idea for the party arose from a BZD-sponsored trip to Israel they took two years ago. The tour group had gathered at a cafe in Tel Aviv, and the couple told the others about a Rockville restaurant near Gail Glazer's workplace called the Tel Aviv Cafe.
"We all said, `Oh, we should do the Tel Aviv Cafe [in Rockville],' which we did when we got back here," Gail Glazer said.
"They loved it and called it the Israeli Cafe, and brought it up to Baltimore," she added.
The success of the Rockville connection led the BZD board to bring the Israel Cafe concept to the Baltimore area with two formal dinner and dancing evenings there and to Howard County.
"Basically, we connect Israel and the Baltimore Jewish community. We support Israel. We do programming to support Israel," Aronhime said of BZD.
Sunday's affair featured a buffet of popular foods - falafel balls, tahini, baba ganoush, pita bread and salads. Round tables, decorated with blue-and-white centerpieces and flags of Israel, surrounded a large open space where many of those who attended gathered to dance the evening away to a lineup of popular Israeli dances.
"These are old, classic [dances] that a lot of people can join and follow and dance even if they don't know it," said Moshe Shem-Tov, a disc jockey who played the tunes and taught the steps. Shem-Tov, who said he has been "dancing forever," is a native of Israel. He came to the United States 12 years ago and leads weekly Israeli dance evenings at venues in Washington and Baltimore.
The enjoyment level was obvious as the dancers kicked, twirled, joined hands or clapped hands. They formed large circles or danced in lines. The energetic Shem-Tov, outfitted in athletic shoes and a microphone head-set, ran around the inside of the circle or in front of the group, demonstrating dance steps or gesturing with his hands to indicate the direction of movement.
"I try to just, you know, to move them a little bit, make them have fun. ... It's lots of fun. Everybody should try it," he said.
The evening also offered the opportunity for area Jews to talk about current events in Israel.
"It helps to meet people and talk about it and see how things [are] going on, anything new, any kind of bit of information," said Ellicott City resident Shimi Estrogano, who moved here 16 years ago from Haifa, Israel. "It just helps to pull together."
Organizers provided information about BZD activities, and had set up two television screens with rolling videos that displayed information about Israel's history and landscape.
"We felt that [the event] was also consciousness-raising for BZD and for the plight of what's going on in Israel," Gail Glazer said.
Roberta Greenstein, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, said the Israel Cafe was "a wonderful opportunity for the community to get together. ... This is part of our culture and our heritage, and we need to do it."
Information about Israeli dance evenings in the Baltimore-Washington area: www. dancetov.com.