As yee-hawish shindigs go, the county fair has had a long-standing reputation among Jews as a mostly goyish affair. Featuring prize-winning produce, livestock competitions, rodeo demonstrations and pie-eating contests, the annual agricultural showcase doesn’t historically stand out as a go-to destination for the largely urban and allergy-prone Jewish community.
But that could change on Oct. 3 when the Shalom Institute in Malibu (home to Camp JCA Shalom)hosts its first Jewish County Fair, an event intended to bring Los Angeles’ different Jewish communities together for a day of food, fun and unity.
Bill Kaplan, executive director at the Shalom Institute and the event’s co-producer, said he and other organizers “looked at the county fair model and the fall harvest model” in brainstorming activities and entertainment for the fair.
“We’re doing garden projects, tree planting, pickling, hatchet throwing, and we have a pie-eating contest,” he said.
Jews are more conscious than ever before about how food makes it to the kitchen table, and the timing seems right for a Jewish county fair. Jewish institutions around Southern California have embraced urban gardening as a way to provide fresh produce to local food pantries, food security issues remain a top priority for Jewish social justice organizations, and synagogues are supporting delivery of locally sourced produce to congregants.
Fair organizers say the event will reflect the themes found in the traditional county fair, a food-centric celebration that honors those who till the land.
Locally, the month-long L.A. County Fair in Pomona, which links Angelenos with California agriculture, draws about 1 million people annually.
Kaplan expressed hope that at least 2,000 people will turn out for the Malibu event.
Musician Craig Taubman, a Jewish County Fair co-producer, used the language of the harvest to emphasize the event’s aim.
“We are trying to communicate that a bountiful community is coming together to celebrate,” Taubman said. “Everyone is bringing something to the table.”
While the Shalom Institute’s fair borrows aspects from county fairs in a way that reinforces the eco-friendly, food-oriented missions of synagogues and Jewish organizations, the event is also distinctly Jewish in its selection of live entertainment, featuring concerts by bands like Moshav and Soul Aviv.
The fair will have broad appeal in the Jewish community, Taubman said. “There’s something for everybody. Wine tasting, beer tasting, organic farming and musicians from all spectrums of the Jewish world. For old people and young, there’s something for everyone to do.”
The event has been in the planning stages for months, and Taubman said the inspiration came from a June piece written by Jewish Journal columnist David Suissa, which called him out specifically.
“With all the in-fighting and all the tension in the Jewish community, people are having such a challenging time being civil together. We need a love fest, a party, and Craig Taubman could get it done,” Taubman said, summarizing Suissa’s point.
Once the idea was born, how the fair would actually play out was still an elusive concept, and the fair’s identity changed as planning proceeded, Taubman said.
“This is the first year out, and so the event is defining itself every day,” he said.
Echoing the sentiment of Suissa’s column, Kaplan praised Taubman for his ability to use creative programming as a means to strengthen the bonds in the local Jewish community.
“Craig’s got the Midas touch,” Kaplan said. “What he puts together equals success.”
More than 30 organizations and synagogues, including IKAR, the Jewish Community Foundation and Conservative congregation Valley Beth Shalom, are participating in or sponsoring the event, Taubman said.
The fair is intended to bridge a currently disconnected local Jewish community, one that is entrenched in arguments on heated issues such as the future of Israel, the gap between “establishment Judaism and more Orthodox Judaism” and the distribution of organizational funds in “economically challenging times,” he said.
“It’s like, ‘Come on, people, you’re living in the best time in history,’ ” Taubman said. “Stop kvetching. Let’s celebrate.”
Jewish County Fair, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. $5 (advance), $8 (door). Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500. shalominstitute.com.
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