Rides, kabobs, Mother's Day and the Los Angeles Lakers made the 15th annual Israeli Festival an interesting experience this past Sunday. The combined forces of the holiday and the NBA playoffs brought the attendance rate at the May 11 event down to about 35,000 festival-goers -- about 9,000 people less than the previous year, according to Adee Glazer-Drory, festival spokeswoman.
The unexpectedly hot weather at Woodley Park in Encino might also have been a factor in the 20 percent drop in attendance. By midday, singer Pini Cohen faced a wilting audience -- despite the singer's lively and enthusiastic performance.
The crowd rallied, however, when the parachuted members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department's Golden Stars Skydiving Team performed and speakers, from event emcee and KABC-790 talk show host Larry Elder to Gov. Gray Davis, proclaimed their support for and commitment to the Jewish State.
Davis said that whatever the political differences of the people on the dais, "We are all united behind the view that we must support the only democracy in the Middle East."
Also in attendance were Reps. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Los Angeles City Councilmembers Wendy Gruel, Antonio Villaraigosa and Dennis Zine; California Assemblyman Paul Koretz; Los Angeles Unified School District Boardmember Julie Korenstein; Jewish Federation President John Fishel; and representatives of the Los Angles Police Department and Los Angeles Fire Department. Representing the State of Israel were Knesset member Natan B. Sharansky and Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was detained on a plane and his wife, Barbara, had to accept his award for "distinguished friend of the Israeli community."
Festival Chair Itzik Glazer said he was pleased by the number of people willing to come out to the festival, despite it falling on Mother's Day.
"People have told me it's the best festival yet," said his wife, Mikki Glazer.
For attendees, there were as many reasons to come out for the festival as there are ways to be Jewish. Marcie Elkin and her father, Robert Loring, came to the festival to "feel closer to my sister who made aliyah," Elkin said, adding that she was amazed by the crowd. "I was at the festival years ago, when it was in the city, and it's tripled in size."
Vered Henn, who moved here from Haifa about eight years ago, said she missed the festival as it was when it was held at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles, but she felt it was too important an event to miss.
"This is the only thing we really have that connects us to Israel," Henn said.