(Clement Lee/Managing Editor)

When students stepped onto McDonough Field for Emory University’s annual Israel Fest on April 16, they were welcomed by a DJ playing a mix of house and Israeli-house music. Tables containing merchandise from Jewish organizations and Israeli food and snacks surrounded McDonough stage, which would later house a performance by Jewish-American singer Matisyahu.

Emma Koch (27C), a member of Eagles for Israel’s logistics committee, said that Eagles for Israel was one of the main organizers of the event, working alongside Emory Hillel, Meor at Emory and Chabad. Israel Fest also featured Jewish organizations such as Emory Israel Public Affairs Committee, JBiz and JHealth. 

Although the festival was mainly focused on the Israeli cultural scene at Emory, Eagles for Israel also used the event as an opportunity to bring attention to the Israel-Hamas war.  

“Usually we bring in a lot of Israeli food and people can celebrate Judaism, but this year, we’ve also tried to raise awareness for the hostages as well,” Koch said.

While other tables gave out t-shirts, stickers and pens, one of Hillel’s tables displayed dog chains labeled with “Bring Them Home Now” and beaded bracelets bearing the names of Israeli hostages captured by Hamas. 

Emory Hillel Vice President Maya Rezak (25C) said that although Israel Fest was a “cool opportunity” for campus clubs related to Israel to come together, she wanted to bring attention to Israeli hostages captured by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023 — especially for her friend Omer, who is among the hostages. 

“Since the fall, it’s been very important to a group of us to keep bringing awareness on campus about these hostages,” Rezak said. “My friend Omer is 22 years old. He is our age, is the same as any of us, grew up in the States, and it’s just really important to see that these are innocent people being held hostage by a terrorist organization, and the world can’t forget about them.” 

One table at the event also served falafels, pita and various desserts from Toco Grill, a Kosher restaurant in Atlanta, according to Eagles for Israel co-President Lyndsey Lipson (24C). She also noted the importance of bringing awareness to Israeli culture at the event.

“The coolest thing about Israel Fest is that it’s everyone coming together to celebrate Israeli culture in such a positive and uplifting way,” Lipson said. “It’s really to get that positive touch point for students on campus to learn about Israel in a positive light when a lot of stuff they are hearing is in a political and negative way.” 

The culmination of the festival, however, was Matisyahu’s performance. Clad in a loose-fitting blue shirt, a white tank top and yellow kaleidoscope pants, Matisyahu sauntered on stage to greet the delighted crowd. Jordana Miller (24B) explained that she was already familiar with Matisyahu, whose legal name is Matthew Paul Miller. 

“I’ve heard of this guy for a while,” Miller said. “My mom’s a fan.”  

Matisyahu, whose stage name means “gift of God” in Hebrew, is a Reconstructionist Jew from West Chester, Pa. His 2004 single “King Without a Crown” reached 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He is known for blending his spirituality with a rock-reggae sound.

The concert began with Matisyahu singing, humming and beatboxing under his breath, swaying back and forth while his guitarist strummed a reggae-style melody. He used his loose, lackadaisical approach to set up for future moments in his performance — after mumbling or beatboxing for a few counts, he would create a loop of his singing and use it as a beat to work off of for subsequent melodies. 

In more than one instance during the concert, Matisyahu started singing a well-known song and encouraged the audience to sing or clap along before moving off script and returning to spur-of-the-moment lyricism or scatting. His spontaneity was part of the fun for the audience, who laughed and cheered at these moments of ingenuity. 

The concert reached a climax when Matisyahu played his hit “One Day” (2009), a song wishing for peace and prosperity. Audience members rushed to the stage, forming a mosh pit in which they sang along and swayed to the beat of the music. 

“It was good to see everyone come together,” concluded Miller, who noted that “it wasn’t all Jewish people” who attended the event. Matisyahu calls for just that in “One Day,” singing “There’ll be no more wars / And our children will play / One day.”

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Clement Lee (he/him) (24Ox) is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is on the pre-BBA track. Outside the Wheel, Clement can be found reading new books or going on long runs in the woods.