Jewish Atlanta’s community celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday is Sunday, April 29, at Park Tavern at Piedmont Park, but Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) also was a festive occasion from Wednesday night to Thursday night, April 18 and 19.

More than 500 people attended Young Israel of Toco Hills’ annual Yom HaAtzmaut barbecue at Mason Mill Park in Decatur on April 19.

Young Israel Rabbi Adam Starr joins his congregation at the Yom HaAtzmaut celebration at Mason Mill Park. (Photo by Beth Intro)

The previous night, Gov. Nathan Deal, Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple and the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church were among the featured speakers at the Israeli Consulate General’s crowded reception at the Woodruff Arts Center.

“Israel will continue to thrive and never, ever stand alone again” because of people like you, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general, told the crowd after accepting an Israel@70 proclamation from Deal.

“Rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel has come to embody the true meaning of perseverance and resilience,” she said, noting the cost of more than 23,600 soldiers and more than 3,100 terrorism victims who were memorialized the night before at a Yom HaZikaron service at The Temple.

After overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles, “Israel stands proudly alongside the world’s most developed nations and as the Middle East’s sole true democracy, one rooted in equality and freedom of speech and religion,” Shorer said.

Rabbi Berg said that identity as a democracy as well as a Jewish refuge is the essence of Israel and fulfills the visions of its great prophets. But like the United States in 1846, Israel at age 70 has work to do.

“It is our own hands that will write that great history,” he said, urging the people in the crowd to roll up their sleeves to help build Israel and support the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Let us make sure that Israel is in our thoughts and in prayers,” the rabbi said. “Let’s make sure that ‘next year in Jerusalem’ is not a distant aspiration, but rather a personal invitation, a place we should constantly return to. … It’s all about going home.”

Deal talked about his trip to Israel in 2014, drawing laughs with his pronunciation of “kibbutz” and cheers for his announcement that Georgia has purchased $10 million in Israel Bonds since he took office in 2011.

He said Georgia had $215.4 million in exports to Israel in 2017, a 4 percent increase, while the state imported $159.1 million worth of Israeli goods, a 20 percent jump.

“Those kinds of investments bring us closer together,” Deal said.

Shorer noted that one of Georgia’s 12 trade representatives is based in Israel and that 50 Israeli companies operate in Georgia.

But she said that more than business and democratic values bring Israelis and Americans together. The too-frequent experience of terrorist attacks also connects the nations.

“This common struggle has created yet another bond between our nations,” Shorer said, “as we both understand the indiscriminate, unjustifiable evil of terrorism, the irreparable pain it causes and the swift, unequivocal response necessary to destroy it.”