Maybe the post-apocalyptic parking situation was a tip-off. The overcapacity of automobiles surrounding Woodley Park seemed to confirm that this year's Israeli Independence Day Festival outdid itself in terms of spectacle and attendance. An estimated 50,000 attended, festival director Yoram Gutman confirmed, making this year's festival the biggest yet. As Gutman told The Journal, "There are so many Israelis who live in the Valley, so maybe that has something to do with it. I never saw so many Persian Jews and American Jews."
At the vast Encino park, the aroma of barbecues tended to by picnicking families filled the spring air; kids rode rides and tossed footballs; Jewish organizations reached out to passers-by; long lines mobbed food kiosks that offered everything from smoothies to Persian cuisine; and Israeli folk dancers cut up the lawn, if not the rug.
The Journal also got to meet and greet readers and award prizes to our raffle contestants, including the children interpreting their odes to the 53rd Israeli Independence Day in crayon for our art contest.
The festival seemed to have a little something for everyone: Sephardim and Ashkenazim; Israeli, American, Persian and Russian Jews; and non-Jews. Overall, a nice (extended) family affair.
As for Israeli Fest No. 54, Gutman was undecided whether the annual event will return to its original Pan Pacific Park setting.
"It was so successful in the Valley that it may stay in the Valley," Gutman said.