“The Reform service is going crazy, the Conservative service is going crazy. Orthodox [service] is huge,” Josh Kaplan, a Jewlicious board member, said as he walked past the concierge to the Jewlicious merchandise booth.
Surrounded by black-and-white photographs of Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Loretta Young and other historical and cultural figures, attendees of the eighth annual youth-oriented festival Jewlicious arrived onboard the Queen Mary on Feb. 24.
A carefree attitude defined the weekend festival. For the first time, it was a held on the retired ocean liner docked in Long Beach. In previous years, the festival, attended by college students and young adults, had been held at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach.
A blend of music, arts, lectures and Shabbat celebrations attracted approximately 700 people this year, with 350 people staying overnight.
On Friday night, “Blossom” and “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik discussed her Jewish journey during “Inside the Rabbi’s Studio,” with festival director Rabbi Yonah Bookstein. Raised secular, Bialik’s transition to Modern Orthodoxy began with her involvement at UCLA Hillel. “What I understood about [Judaism] became more intriguing than what was going on in the secular world,” Bialik said of her time as a UCLA undergraduate.
Short TED-style talks dominated on Friday, featuring Jewlicious blog creator David Abitbol (speaking on “Young American Jews and Israel”); Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Esther Kustanowitz (“Comedy, Connections and Today’s Jewish Community”); Tea Party member Michael Prell (“My Jew-ish Journey”); young adult and former Israel Defense Forces soldier Jay Schreiber (“Stories of a ‘Lone Solider’ ”) and Torah scribe Julie Seltzer (“Birthing the Torah”). Tahlia Miller, Matisyahu’s wife, examined “how personality affects relationships,” and Rav Shmuel Skaist led “Torah and Chulent,” the sole all-night event.
“The overall goal of Jewlicious is to create the best experiential weekend for young Jews in the country,” Bookstein said in an interview. “That’s always been our goal, and that’s what we constantly strive to achieve. As the years have progressed, we’ve had a lot of involvement with our participants, with feedback and their involvement in planning it.”
Hurrying around an 11 p.m. ice cream party in the ship’s Britannia Salon, a 7,500-square-foot room that once served as the Queen Mary’s second-class lounge, Bookstein described this year’s festival as “next level.” For the first time, festival-goers slept on site, bunking in the cruise ship’s cabins, as opposed to previous years, when they slept at hotels adjacent to the Jewish community center.
The venue also allowed for more freedom. In previous years, attendees were confined to the JCC. This year, they could walk anywhere on the boat. After a massive Shabbat dinner that had four long tables seating 50 to 80 people each, a bunch of students from California State University, Long Beach, ventured off to the Observation Bar, an art deco lounge with live music and cocktails.
After the TED-style talks, 20-year-old Becky Rudin, a member of Claremont Students for Israel at Claremont College, along with six female friends from Claremont who were at Jewlicious for the weekend, walked the ship’s deck, enjoying the evening’s cool air.
“I just wanted to get more involved in the community ... and have an enlightening Jewish experience,” Rudin said.
Friday was filled with lectures, Shabbat and attendees getting to know each other — and their way around the ship — but the rest of the weekend featured live music and comedy. On Saturday night, ska and reggae band The Aggrolites and stand-up comedians Todd Barry and Moshe Kasher performed. The Los Angeles band Fool’s Gold filled in for Moshav, which had to cancel for personal reasons.
On Sunday, an acoustic concert with The Wellspring took place on the Captain’s Deck overlooking the Long Beach harbor and skyline. Later, a panel discussion examined “Jews and Cannabis,” workshops explored the Jewish art of paper cutting, and mimosas complemented an outdoor brunch.
“It was just so scenic and gorgeous,” Bookstein said of the weekend’s weather, but he could as well have been describing the event.
“The new venue really brought a whole new atmosphere to the festival; everybody was just raving about having it on the Queen Mary,” he said. “I think that with the success with 8.0 on the Queen Mary, we’re already looking forward to doing the ninth one there.”