NEXTGen Detroit hosts 65th birthday bash for Israel.

Blue lights cast a cool glow on the walls inside Local Kitchen and Bar in Ferndale and white paper lanterns hung from the ceiling; music played, drinks flowed, and 20- and 30-somethings mingled. The festive gathering April 11, co-sponsored by NEXTGenDetroit and AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), was a 65th birthday bash for Israel. Partygoers paid a $10 cover charge. There was also food, a blue-and-white candy bar and dancing.

“It’s a fun, light vibe,” NEXTGen Detroit director Miryam Rosenzweig said while lounging on a bench looking out over the crowd. “We want to begin reintroducing Israel into the conversation.”

Organizers plastered the walls with posters depicting Israel celebrations from 1949 and through each decade. They also used an Internet hookup to project a live Kotel cam image of the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. Around 9:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m. Israel time), several members of the group “Detroiters in Israel” walked into the camera shot waving and holding large “D” signs for Detroit. They knew partygoers would be watching. What they didn’t realize was that security guards around the Kotel would be watching, too. The small group was briefly detained and questioned after the sign-waving stunt.

“I guess it’s a sensitive zone and they didn’t know why people were standing there at 4:30 in the morning waving signs,” Rosenzweig explained. “Everyone (on both sides) had a good laugh!”

Back at the party, Ryan Fishman, an AIPAC young leadership development volunteer and NEXTGen board member, said it was great to see so many of his peers rallying around the Jewish state.

“We’re fortunate to have a vibrant Jewish community in Detroit,” he said. “Celebrating Israel’s 65th birthday was a great way to partner AIPAC with Federation.”

At one point during the evening, there was also a countdown. As the group shouted out “3-2-1,” cannons went off sending confetti shooting into the air. Rosenzweig pointed out her generation only knows Israel as a regional superpower or through subsidized educational Birthright trips — a much different perspective than her parents or grandparents had decades ago.

“I have a picture of my grandmother in a displaced persons’ camp when Israel became a state,” she said. “My parents grew up in a world where it’s 1967, Israel is 18 years old, and everybody attacks it.”

She added the organization’s long-term goal is to reconnect America’s Jewish community with the Jewish community in Israel.

“If everybody walks away with a good feeling about Israel, we all win,” she said. 

By Robin Schwartz, Contributing Writer