By Hannah Fierle, For The Miami Student

Imagine a normal evening in Oxford’s Uptown Park being suddenly transformed into an entirely new cultural experience. Petting a camel, grabbing some delicious Shawarma and immersing oneself into the traditions of another world.

In honor of Israel’s 68th Independence Day (Yom Ha’atmaut), Hillel put on Israel Fest for the Oxford community on Tuesday. The event took place in Uptown Park with over 400 people attending.

Within Miami’s population is a large community of Jewish American students. Hillel is Miami’s association for Jewish American students, offering a forum for celebrating heritage and engaging the campus in their traditions.

This is the third year of Hillel’s Israel Fest, a now annual event.

“Our goal was to bring a taste of Israel to Oxford for people who have never experienced it or might not know a lot about it,” said Nikolai Levinsohn, president of Hillel. “I think we were successful in creating a sense of that land and cultivating aspects of Israel’s culture in Oxford.”

Levinsohn expressed that many people attending the festival were not just students, but also members of the community, bringing their families and children.

“The program gets bigger and better every year. It’s pretty amazing to see students take initiative and feel empowered to work on this event,” said MeganHarkavy, one of the off-campus advisors for Hillel. “It was really nice to see so many students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as community members and faculty celebrating this holiday together.”

Israel Fest featured many authentic features of the nation’s culture. A DJ played the unique, traditional music, while attendants were able to “tour” Israel’s five big cities and learn more about the culture. The event featured live camels and donkeys, and activities included a bouncy house for children, games and prizes and making one’s own Dead Sea salt scrub.

“We wanted to showcase authentic aspects of Israel’s culture, a country with such diverse food, music, animals and traditions,” said Levinsohn.

The event offered an impressive spread of authentic Israeli cuisine, including smoothies, hummus, falafel and Shawarma. In sharing this customary fare with the community, Hillel was able to give attendants a better taste and understanding of Israel.

With the event’s great participation and enthusiasm from the community, Levinsohn and Hillel look to the future to continue to build their organization.

“We’ve reached a lot more people and created more ways to get involved,” said Levinsohn. “The next executive board is vigorous with lots of energy. I believe in their ability to continue the comfortable community we’ve established at Miami.”

In just the last year, Hillel has seen growth in participation by 40 percent. The organization’s many events help to engage the community in Jewish American culture in a fun and educational way.

In addition to Israel Fest, Hillel puts on events to celebrate other Jewish holidays like Hanukkah, Rash Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Members also enjoy a weekly Shabbat dinner on Friday nights at Miami’s Hillel Foundation, located Uptown on Walnut Street.

Additionally, in an effort to grow and continue high levels of participation, Hillel has formed a friendship with the Muslim Students Association. This partnership between the two organizations has resulted in co-hosted events like “Fest of the Mideast.”

“I’m thankful that Hillel constantly gives me and my peers opportunities to grow as members of the Jewish community, as leaders, and helps us feel connected to Miami’s campus as a whole,” said Sam Adler, incoming president of Hillel.