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Jewish Journal

Annual Israel festival at Woodley Park canceled

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

April 12, 2011 | 4:47 pm

Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park (2008)

Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park (2008)

A lack of funding has forced organizers to cancel this year’s Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park, a community event that at its height attracted as many as 30,000 people. An immediate donation of around $30,000 could reverse the decision, according to Yoram Gutman, executive director of Israel Independence Day Festival, which runs the event. The festival honoring Israel’s 63rd birthday was scheduled for May 15.

Gutman said rising costs from the City of Los Angeles, combined with a decision from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles not to fund the festival this year, left the organization in an untenable financial situation.

“I’ve had many, many nights of lost sleep in coming to this decision,” Gutman said. “We really believe this is the most logical and responsible thing to do — or not to do — right now.”

Last year, the cash-strapped City of Los Angeles informed organizers three weeks before the event that the festival would have to pay $43,000 for police and fire protection, as well as traffic diversion. Those fees had been waived in the past since the festival was an official city event, but last year the city, in a deep budget deficit, did not issue waivers for any events.

With that sum tacked onto the $174,000 it cost to produce the festival, Gutman said the organization is still $45,000 in debt.

The event covers costs with an entrance fee, revenue from vendors and some philanthropic grants. Aside from an executive director and an hourly secretary, it is organized by volunteers.

The festival would have had to charge $15 admission this year — up from $8 last year and $5 the year before — and was aiming for a smaller affair that would cost around $100,000.

The final blow came when Federation informed Gutman it would no longer contribute the $20,000 it had in past years to the festival.

The Federation could not be reached for comment.

The festival, which has run for close to two decades, also does not receive support from the Israeli Leadership Council, a Los Angeles group that funds Israeli cultural activities. The two organizations parted ways after they collaborated on Israel’s 60th birthday in 2009, when they couldn’t agree on the leadership and future direction of the festival, according to Gutman and ILC co-chair Eli Tene.

In the past few years, the festival attracted around 10,000 people with three stages featuring performances going all day, usually culminating in a concert by a high-profile Israeli star. Around 250 booths represented Jewish organizations and merchants, and rides and a food court attracted families and teens.

Gutman said the festival will go on next year. “We thought it was better to cancel this year’s festival and to put all our efforts into future fundraising so we can plan a very big festival for next year,” Gutman said.

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