May 3, 2007
One (Independence) Day in the Valley
Guy Husany came to America from Yaffo, Israel to help his parents. Five years ago he married Dorit (not pictured), and three years ago the couple gave birth to twins, Golan and Daniel.
They came to the festival to identify with Israel -- but on their way in, the whole family was stung by bees. They rushed to the hospital -- these were the kids' first stings, so they wanted to make sure they weren't allergic (they're not) -- and then they returned to the festival.
You came back?
"Of course we came back!" Guy says. "This is our party. We don't leave a party."
Gina Oken, Pico-Robertson
Like a true Southern girl, Gina Oken navigates the festival carrying a beautiful straw Oriental umbrella to protect her from the sun and heat, which is strong at 80 degrees, but not as hot as at many previous years' festivals. Oken, 46, moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles 25 years ago and now resides in Pico Robertson. She's been to the festival many times. This year she found more information booths than "stuff to buy," but, she said, "it's interesting to walk by and see all the different voices and opinions."
Oken came to the festival with her 14-year-old son to show support for Israel. Where is the boy?
"Good Question!" Oken replies. "He's wearing black shorts, a blue top, and tennis shoes with racing stripes. If you see him tell him his mother is looking for him."
"Rabbi Mordy," left, with Rep. Brad Sherman.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) patiently waits at the Chabad of the Valley Booth while "Rabbi Mordy" fumbles around a pile of tefillin trying to find a special set of phylacteries for the congressman -- who is a lefty. The rabbi finally finds the right set, pulls up Sherman's sleeve and wraps the black leather strap around his arm. This is for the heart, the mind and the soul," he explains, and then recites the blessing slowly, waiting for Sherman to repeat after him. After the ritual is done and the congressman rolls down his sleeve, the rabbi turns constituent.
"How's it going in Washington?" he asks.
"We're doing what we should have done in 1997," Sherman replies and hands him one of his famous campaign combs, a joke playing off Sherman's diminished hairline -- which is not currently visible beneath the gray felt yarmulka perched atop of his head for the tefillin ritual.
Maybe Sherman should wear the kippah all the time.
"Various rabbis have suggested it," Sherman said. "Maybe even God himself."
Rebecca Niakan, 20, Sam Kokin, 21
On the edge of the festival, a long line of tents offer Israeli food, from "World's Best Falafel" to shwarma to schnitzel in a pita. Rebecca Niakan and Sam Kokin opted for the $10 quarter of a watermelon, sliced in chunks and served in its rind -- perfect for sharing on the grass together, seated among strangers. The UCLA students -- she's a history major and he's a "business, economics and accounting major" -- have been dating only two months. Niakan has been to the festival before, but this year she's really excited because she signed up to be a Jewish Big Sister.
"I always wanted to do it, but I wasn't old enough," she explains.
Her boyfriend adds: "She's the youngest; she always wanted the chance to be a big sister."
Avi Gil of North Hollywood, left, with brother Itzik Gil of Rishon Lezion
Avi Gil camped out under a shady tree in a grassy area behind the festival booths in a circle with many members of his family: He's got three kids and four grandchildren living in America, and his brother, Itzik, is visiting from Israel. The two brothers -- Avi is 58 and Itzik is 55 -- sprawl out in their canvas folding chairs deftly shelling pumpkin seeds -- piling the detritus on the folding table between them.
Their family originally is from Turkey, they say with pride.
Avi, who is a carpenter, came to America 25 years ago.
"That's a good question," Avi says in that philosophical tone Israelis use when they don't know the answer.
"Fate," his brother chimes in.
Avi comes to the festival every year, but this is Itzik's first -- in fact, he extended his trip from Israel by two days just to see it, and he says he's glad he did: "I feel like I'm in Israel."
Anthony, Tenita and Kiara Artry
This family came to the festival because Anthony is doing a study on "The Modern State of Israel" for his master's degree.
What did he find?
"You don't want to know," he says, shaking his head. "It took me an hour and a half to get in here ... drivers were cutting me off, people were rude. I don't want to classify an entire group of people," he backpedaled. "I've only been here for five minutes."
Maybe it will get better?
"I hope so. It can't get any worse."