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Jewish Journal

Sunday in the Park

Great weather and unity drew 30,000 to this year's Israel Independence Day Festival.

by Michael Aushenker

April 25, 2002 | 8:00 pm

"Security" and "unity." Those were the two buzzwords of this year's Israel Independence Day Festival. And both were in great supply in what turned out to be a festive and safe celebration of Israel and Jewish culture.

About 30,000 people converged at Encino's Woodley Park for a day that included food, amusement park rides, cultural booths, live music and a procession of Israeli music-spinning DJs.

Popular KABC talk radio host Larry Elder emceed the daylong main stage proceedings, which included music by Rika Mercedes and festival honoree Pini Cohen, and featured appearances by Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles' Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem, Rabbi Steven Carr Ruben of Kehillat Israel of Pacific Palisades, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Assemblyman Paul Koretz and Scott Svonkin, his chief of staff .

Despite the high attendance and high-profile appearances, the Los Angeles Times did not cover the festival.

The festival was organized by chair Morrie Avidan and executive director Yoram Gutman, with the help of a core staff that included Nava Peri, Adee Glazer, Eddie Grimberg, Raffi Jacobson, Amnon Peery, Shifra Raz and Yaacov Yaffe. Sponsors included Promoting Israel Education and Publicity Fund, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Council of Israeli Community of L.A. and the Israeli consulate.

"I look at the children here and I hope that in 46 years, they'll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Jewish state," Federation President John Fishel said.

"We must remind the world that Israeli soldiers do not shoot civilians," said Temple Beth Am's spiritual leader Rabbi Joel Rembaum. "We must be in Israel with our brothers and sisters. We can't abandon our family when they are in need."

"The presence of Israel is a sign of wonder today. It's proof that God is at work today," said Dr. Scott Bauer of Church on the Way, who, on behalf of Christians everywhere, apologized for the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and years of Jewish persecution in the name of Christianity.

Offstage, there was a lot of activity over at the booths, which attracted a who's who of Jewish institutions and vendors. As the recorded music of Alabina mingled with the fresh air on the warm, sunny Sunday, Yiddishkayt's Aaron Paley offered arts and crafts projects for children, while Temple Beth Torah of the San Fernando Valley advertised free face painting. Anna Marie Heller, executive vice president of Beth Torah, which is celebrating its 30th year, said it was important for her colleagues to have a presence at the festival "to support Israel and to let the Valley know about Temple Beth Torah."

Over at the Artists Pavilion, Hana Zafrani did brisk business selling hand-crafted jewelry and sculptures by Israeli artists.

Sharon Cooper, working the booth for Shavua Israeli, a West Hollywood-based Hebrew-language local paper, detected a shift in the Jewish attendees at the festival.

"Last year, there were more Israelis than this year," Cooper said. "This year, there seems to be more Americans. Many people told us that they don't read Hebrew."

A big issue for this year's festival promoters was security, because some feared negative reactions in response to Middle East political tensions. The festival took extra security measures -- metal detectors, private security and an increased police presence. Despite some qualms, the day was calm and orderly, though turnout was smaller this year, perhaps due to security concerns.

"Everything seems to be going well," said Capt. Bob McNamara of the Van Nuys Police Division late in the afternoon. "We've had no real problems to speak of. Everybody seems to be in a festival atmosphere."

"I'm happy. I feel comfortable. The security is good," Cooper said.

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