by Judy Horwitz
On April 26th, a historic event took place when over 300 members of Chicago’s Jewish community gathered at the United Center to celebrate Israel’s 64th birthday with Tamir Goodman’s Coolanu Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching Jewish values and Israel education through basketball programs. The Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration had added significance because the Bulls were playing against the Cavs and Omri Casspi, who made history as the first and so far only Israeli to play in the NBA. The Coolanu Israel participants’ enthusiastic cheers that rocked the United Center were a lively declaration of love and appreciation for the State of Israel.
The celebration kicked off with a reception before tip-off where participants enjoyed the festive atmosphere, an Israeli themed dinner, trivia games about Israel, and socializing with old and new friends. Tamir Goodman, Coolanu’s founder and director, Diane Halivni, Coolanu’s director of programming and development, and Michael Small, the evening’s MC, welcomed the crowd to the exciting event. Participants were then thrilled by surprise appearances by Bull’s President and COO, Michael Reinsdorf, and JNF Chicago Region president, Scott Gendell, both of whom addressed the crowd and shared personal anecdotes about Israel.
Participants then made their way to their seats to watch the game and cheer on the home team (as well as Coolanu’s fan-favorite, Omri Casspi!). The Coolanu group’s loud cheering even caught the attention of the camera man, and the group, waving Israeli flags, was featured on the scoreboard! After the Bulls defeated the Cavs, everyone made their way court side for what was a truly special post-game event.
After Tamir Goodman revved up the crowd, he ran into the locker room area and moments later returned with special featured guest, Omri Casspi, who received a hugely warm welcome of singing, cheering, and chants of Am Yisrael Chai from the adoring crowd. MC Michael Small, as well as participants in the stands, posed questions to Casspi, who gave heartfelt answers to each question. A highlight of the question and answer session was when Casspi extended an invitation to the group to visit him in his “favorite” place in all of Israel, his hometown of Yavne.
Participants also had the pleasure of listening to remarks by the Anti-Defamation League’s Regional Director, Lonnie Nasatir, and watching a video message on the scoreboard from Israel’s Consul General, Orli Gil. The group then counted the Omer and sang a moving rendition of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah. The incredible evening became even more special when all the kids in attendance had the thrilling opportunity to shoot free throws on the United Center court.
The evening was a huge success and a truly memorable way to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. The event could not have been possible without the ongoing support of Anne Lanski and the iCenter, the hard work of the Coolanu staff, the generous sponsors and donors, dedicated volunteers, inspiring speakers, and of course, all of the participants who brought their enthusiasm, ruach, and their Israeli flags to the United Center.
Please check out some amazing photos from the evening, below, and keep checking the blog for updated pictures and information on future Coolanu programs and events. Please feel free to comment on the pictures and let us know your thoughts!
(Pictures by Dejaviewsusa.com)