Am Yisrael Chai brings a record number of participants in solidarity with Israel

May 15, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

Fierce winds could not shake the determination of more than 2,000 people who wanted to show their support for Israel and its people at JEWISHcolorado’s Am Yisrael Chai: A Celebrate Israel Event on May 5.

Rob Coffee was one of the first to arrive and sit at a table at Lowry Great Lawn Park. He summed up what brought many to this event, especially this year.

“Generally, I don’t wear my kippah except at services, but ever since October 7, I haven’t taken my kippah off,” he said. “I’m here because of my love for Israel. Israel will survive because it is Israel.”

Public officials at Am Yisrael Chai

JEWISHcolorado President & CEO Renée Rockford and Shlicha Nelly Ben Tal greeted the assembled crowd from the podium. Ben Tal, her daughter Ella, JEWISHcolorado’s four Shinshinim (teen Israeli emissaries), and Rabbi Kolby Morris-Dahary from Har Mishpacha in Steamboat Springs led the crowd in the singing of the National Anthem and Hatikvah.

Nelly Ben Tal and Renee Rockford speak at Am Yisrael Chai

Rockford thanked the event sponsors, including Larry Mizel and Mizel Family Foundations, Michael Staenberg and the Staenberg Family Foundation, and Diana Zeff Anderson and the Zeff Kesher Foundation. Then she introduced one of the featured speakers, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Colorado Attorney General speaks at Am Yisrael Chai

“I had never thought I’d see the day where college campuses had to close down because it is not safe for Jews to take final exams or to learn,” Weiser said. “We must do what we can to counter this dynamic by sharing our stories in the best way we can, inviting dialog, and learning from those who are less willing to listen. And for those willing to listen, it’s not that hard to explain that being a Zionist means, very simply, I believe Israel has a right to exist.”

Weiser was followed at the podium by Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a member of the Colorado State Senate.

State Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet speaks at Am Yisrael Chai

“I’m asking you to think ‘Who are the people who are our allies? Who are the people who will support you in being Jewish and believe in your right to Israel and in Israel’s right to exist?’” said Jenet. “Please encourage them to continue being supporters of you and supporters of Israel, because only together will we save Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Special Guests at Am Chai Yisrael

Four former JEWISHcolorado Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) collectively traveled some 35,000 miles to reunite with Colorado friends as special guests at Am Yisrael Chai. Introduced by Board member Aza Squarer, each spoke about what their experience as Shlichim meant to them and what messages they brought with them from Israel.

Shlichim at Am Yisrael Chai

“I am grateful and privileged and honored to be standing here today with all of you and prove to the world that, despite the grief and all that we share and barriers of worldwide antisemitism, we are still full of hope for a better future for Israel,” said Shaul Amir who served as Shaliach twice, starting in 1989. “We hope for a quick return of all the men, women and children still in captivity by the hands of the Hamas monsters.”

“For more than 20 years, my connection to Colorado has meant building society and, more than that, building friendship,” said Raz Arbel, who joined JEWISHcolorado as a Shaliach in 2007. “We understand in Ramat HaNegev, where I live, that we have partners in Colorado, citizens that really care for the people and the security of the region.”

Crowd at Am Yisrael Chai

“In Colorado, more than anything else, I learned about the power of community,” said Osnat Fox, who served JEWISHcolorado as a Shlicha starting in 2015. “What happens when all of us, from diverse organizations, from diverse lives, diverse Jewish streets, come together in partnership to create good things for us all? The hope is that when we all come together, we work for a better future.”

“We have to think about a global Jewish people united,” said Itai Divinsky, who just left as Shaliach a year ago after serving four years. “These times should remind us, especially our young generation, that we are our own most important allies. Together, we stand strong. When they tell us to be quiet, we become more loud and proud.”

Shlichim and Shinshinim sing at Am Yisrael Chai

Nelly Ben Tal, the current JEWISHcolorado Shlicha, concluded the program with a powerful message. “Let us remember that at the core of our existence lies the fundamental truth that we are all interconnected,” Ben Tal said. “We are bound together by the shared experiences, emotions, and aspirations that make us human. Let us embrace and celebrate these connections to and through Israel.”

Colorado at Am Yisrael Chai

There was something for everyone at Am Yisrael Chai—a chance to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, dance together, share a bite to eat, and visit the dozens of booths representing Jewish organizations from around the state that partnered with JEWISHcolorado for the event.

Couple at Am Yisrael Chai

Arthur and Anita Garfein wandered through the crowd together. “It’s very important for me to bear witness to Am Yisrael Chai,” Arthur said. “Especially this year, in memory of all of the people in Israel and the soldiers protecting the state from forces that want to annihilate them, this is the least we can do.”

“So many people are afraid to be identified with anything Jewish right now,” added Anita. “It’s important to be courageous.”

Dana Friedman, who has been a leader of the annual Celebrate Israel event for nearly a decade, stood among the crowd handing out chains with “Bring them Home” tags, honoring hostages still in captivity. “The values we believe in—freedom and humanity—are shared by Israel and America,” she said. “We just have to be loud and proud about it and keep telling the truth.”

Woman with sign at Am Yisrael Chai

Paulette Yousefcadeh walked with her children, holding a sign that made no secret of her strong feelings about Jew-hatred. Her parents were Jews in Iran who came to the U.S. in 1970. “It’s important for me to be here to tell our story of survival and to illustrate that hatred is very much a plague,” she said. “Obviously, it’s still very much a problem.”

The Jackson family stood together in the middle of the crowd. Just last summer, this family of five had made their first trip to Israel. Am Yisrael Chai helped them remember a country during more peaceful times.

“We made connections to the land, the people, the food when we were there,” said mom Malena. “I think being here gives us a little bit of connection to a place we can’t be right now.”

“It feels good to be around fellow Jews, just to stand in solidarity,” added her son, Yonah.