Jewish Journal


June 27, 2002

Festival Welcomes Amigos, Haverim

Fiesta Shalom 2002 honors the relationship between the Jewish and Latino communities.


Bagels, Broza and Brentwood. Enchiladas, Enrique and East L.A. On the surface, the Jewish and Latino communities of Los Angeles don't seem to have much in common. But scratch the surface of the relationship and you will find a common set of values that activists from both communities hope to build on for Fiesta Shalom 2002, a celebration to be held June 30 at Woodley Park in Encino.

"We share a strong sense of family, a strong sense of our heritage and history, a commitment to helping people in need and the desire to improve the quality of life of our children," said Barbara Creme, principal assistant to Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, who served on festival's organizing committee. "We have all kinds of issues in common. We need to understand that our similarities are stronger than our differences."

This is the second such gathering between the two diverse communities. The first Fiesta Shalom took place in September 2000 at CSUN and attracted about 5,000 people. The festival was the brainchild of Reut Ness, a then-staffer of State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-San Fernando Valley). The senator currently chairs the Fiesta Shalom 2002 honorary committee and said he was pleased that many of the people involved in planning the first festival signed on for another hitch.

"Those relationships are where I believe the true community-building occurs," Alarcon said.

The most notable alteration in this year's festival is the change of venue to Woodley Park. Organizers said there was concern after the previous festival that the event was too difficult to find, hidden as it was in the quad area of the campus. They believe the move to a more central and familiar location would attract greater participation from the Latino community.

Another change in the event was the elimination of the panel discussion, which last time focused primarily on affirmative action and discrimination against Latinos. Since the hottest political topic of the summer is secession -- a potential source of conflict between the two communities -- organizers thought better of the idea. Instead, there will be a ceremony to bestow the Fiesta Shalom Award, created to honor groups or organizations currently engaged in improving relationships between Jews and Latinos. This year's recipient is the Hispanic Jewish Women's Task Force, a project of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance's Jewish Community Relations Committee established in 1997 to help nurture the fledging relationship between female activists in both communities.

Creme is a co-founder of the task force, along with Virginia Rafelson, director of the group Basic Adult Spanish Education, and Margaret Pontius, director of the Guadalupe Center in Canoga Park.

In addition to visiting the usual food (some kosher), art/jewelry and organization booths (representing agencies such as the Anti-Defamation League and the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council), families can participate in a children's craft corner, with Judaica crafts sponsored by the West Valley Jewish Community Center, and a piñata-making workshop for those whose kids need to work off a little extra steam.

Entertainment for the festival includes folklorico dancers, a concert by the Kadima Conservatory of Music youth orchestra and performances by Klez-Mex, a combination klezmer and mariachi band created by local attorney/musician Barry Fisher, founder of the Ellis Island Band.

Fisher said he became fascinated several years ago by the long history of Jews in Spanish culture and worked with local mariachi musicians to create a musical blend of the two traditions.

"There were Sephardic Jews who settled in Mexico after the Spanish Inquisition and Ashkenazim who came to Mexico to fight with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution," Fisher said. "For a Latino audience it is interesting because they don't know about this Jewish history or of Jews speaking Ladino. Even among [Latino] musicians it is a real consciousness-raising experience, to be willing to explore singing in Yiddish and to hear their own music with the inflection of a klezmer band."

Creme said she hopes Jewish agencies and organizations will encourage their members to participate in Fiesta Shalom.

"I don't know that the Jewish community and the Latino community find themselves in the same place at the same time very often. This is a wonderful opportunity for sharing information and sharing our culture," she said.

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