Israeli entertainers often get a jumpstart on a civilian career following military service, which they spend polishing their act at morale-boosting performances for the armed forces.
That proved the case for Shlomo Rabinowitz. After a three-year and two-war military stint ending in 1975, he easily found conducting and keyboard work on stages and television programs and heard his compositions performed and recorded by Israel's top-billed artists.
Now, 50, Rabinowitz of Woodland Hills is a musical chameleon, sharing the spotlight conducting alongside violinist Itzak Perlman or playing piano in a Burbank studio for a cantor's vanity recording.
Rabinowitz and a quartet of musicians is the first featured act of this year's Israel celebration to be held Sunday, May 23, on the field of Irvine's Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School. Organizers expect 5,000 people will attend the 11 a.m.-6 p.m. festival, which is expected to be the county's best-attended Jewish community affair in recent memory.
Set almost a month following Israel's official Independence Day anniversary on April 27, the event promises to serve as a cultural showcase for Israel and the local Jewish community, said Mali Leitner of Villa Park. She is organizing the event with a committee of community volunteers and the financial backing of the Orange County Jewish Federation.
The event may also serve as a political showcase as well. It is hoped that a robust turnout will demonstrate the community's solidarity with embattled Israel for the politicians expected to attend.
Planned for the event are a procession of 30 Israeli flags, an Israel Defense Forces-themed fashion show and a hoped-for appearance by Yuval Rotem, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles. The diplomat, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other elected officials were invited, but their response is not expected until later this month.
"A major goal of Orange County Celebrates Israel is to provide opportunities for everyone to be exposed to Jewish and Israeli culture and to gain a better understanding of the importance of the State of Israel as one of our country's leading allies and trading partners," the Federation said in an e-mail to members last month.
Tarbut's field will sprout a bazaar of booths, including 30 or more Israel-based craftsmen and artists selling their wares, 50 community groups offering information and kosher delicacies to satisfy noshers. Umbrella-shaded picnic tables will add to the party atmosphere.
"Celebrate and do a mitzvah," Leitner urged. "Come with open hearts and open pockets to help Israeli vendors."
Other entertainment featured on stage will include another native Israeli who resides in Tarzana, vocalist Gilat Rapaport, and her band, InJoy, and longtime Israeli folk dancer Yonnie Carr of San Diego.
In addition, there will be a fashion show produced by Guy Kochlani of Encino, a former UCLA Hillel events coordinator turned Israel promoter. The 45-minute runway show will feature 10 models in three changes of military-accessorized garments.
The clothing will come from Los Angeles-area merchants who are natives of Israel.
"They can't support the troops on the ground, so they salute the troops on the runway," said Kochlani, who promised a surprise ending.
Leitner, a former vocalist who is also a native of Israel, will get a turn in the limelight, singing nostalgic Israeli songs with Rabinowitz, who will play a synthesizer. His group's repertoire will include traditional patriotic tunes, along with some medleys in Yiddish and Middle Eastern melodies.
In at least one corner there will be informal 25-minute classes taught by a half-dozen local Chabad rabbis on an array of topics. They may include Chassidic stories, a game of stump the rabbi or an introduction to Jewish mysticism, said the booth's organizer, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Yorba Linda's Chabad.
A children's corner will be supervised by the Jewish Community Center's staff.
The $6 admission tickets will be sold at the gate, however, organizers are urging advance ticket sales through participating synagogues. Advance sales will be split, earning a synagogue $2 per ticket.
Leitner is still seeking event-day volunteers, booth renters and event sponsors.
For more information, call (714) 755-5555, ext. 240.