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Feature: Israelis, Chinese celebrate Dragon Boat festival in Tel Aviv

by Anat Shalev

TEL AVIV, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Some 200 people competed in boat races on Tuesday at the Yarkon River Park in Tel Aviv to celebrate the Duanwu Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in a colorful extravaganza.

The event was co-organized by the Confucius Institute at Tel Aviv University, the Chinese embassy to Israel and the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv. According to the organizers, nearly 1,000 people, Israelis and Chinese alike, took part in the celebration with their friends and families cheering for them -- including a particularly eye-catching group dressed as pandas.

"This is the third time of the boat racing competition in Tel Aviv, but this is the first time that the Confucius Institute and the Chinese Embassy took part in the organizing of the event and brought Chinese elements into it," Li Zhenshi, director of Tel Aviv University's Confucius Institute, told Xinhua.

"Today the Jewish people are celebrating Shavuot, while yesterday the Chinese people celebrated the Duanwu festival. The Chinese people have a tradition to race dragon boat in Duanwu, so we would like to take this occasion to introduce the Chinese culture to the local friends," said Li.

The Duanwu Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. According to Chinese tradition, more than 2,000 years ago, revered Chinese poet Qu Yuan killed himself by drowning in the river as he was upset with the corruption prevailing in the kingdom of Chu.

Legend says that people went to retrieve his body from the river by sailing boats decorated as dragons in order to scare the fish away.

In Tel Aviv in 2014, 20 colorful boats, manned by teams of 12, competed for awards and medals in several rounds of races.

Chinese ambassador to Israel Gao Yanping and officials at the Tel Aviv municipality kicked off the event, welcoming the participants and talking about the important cooperation on cultural events and ventures between the embassy and the municipality.

Yael, a participant from the pink Bazooka team -- Bazooka is the name of a popular Israeli gum -- who came first in the women's boat race, was happy to take part in the festival.

"We are strong and independent women," she told Xinhua. "We have energy and we want to win. We feel prepared."

This is the first time she participated in the festival and she read the history behind it before coming to compete at the Yarkon River.

"I know there was a holy Chinese man who committed suicide and people went looking for him," she said. "we will look for him during the race today."