All the fish in the ocean,
All the birds in the sky,
All the trees in the forest,
All the clouds floating by,
All the boys and the girls,
All the squid and the squirrels,
Ought to know it's one world we share....
- "One World," Craig 'N Co. Â© 1997
If anyone knows how to have fun, it's singer/songwriter Craig Taubman. Known to thousands of kids and former kids for tunes such as "Shabababat Shalom" and the "Chanukah Rap," Taubman, the musical force behind Sinai Temple's popular Friday Night Live and Adat Ari El's One Saturday Morning services, is about to bring his special brand of ruach (spirit) to the Valley Jewish community's biggest event of the year.
As co-producer of the Valley Jewish Festival, which takes place Sunday., June 3, at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), Taubman is drawing on his experience putting together events like Sunday Funday to gather a variety of acts from today's Jewish music scene, combine them with the events planned by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and kick the festival up a notch.
"What we need to do at this time is make people feel good," Taubman said. "We could have been born in Serbia or South Africa; instead we are blessed to be born in a glorious place, in a time where we have the State of Israel. There is a lot more to celebrate than to moan about."
The playlist for this year's festival includes Israeli pop star David Broza and soul singer Neshama Carlebach (daughter of the revered Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach), who will appear on the Monster.com Main Stage along with world beat band Pharoah's Daughter, popular local act Hollywood Klezmer and the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble. In the children's area, acts appearing on the Saban Entertainment Family Stage include tot favorites Joanie Bartels and Parachute Express, plus Taubman's own group, Craig 'N Co.
Taubman put to good use his relationship with Zany Brainy (for whom he recently produced two CDs) and a chance meeting with media mogul Haim Saban to obtain key sponsorships for the festival, which, in turn, allowed him to attract acts like Broza and Carlebach.
"The corporate sponsors have been terrific," Taubman said. "We were thrilled to get such high-powered companies as Saban. It really elevates the level of the festival."
The Valley Jewish Festival, which first appeared as the Exodus Festival in 1986, has always been constructed around a theme of social action. This year's motif, the environment, is particularly apt considering the state of California's ongoing energy crises and concerns about the current federal administration's energy policies.
"The festival's theme is an effort to help the Jewish community find the link between Judaism and good environmental stewardship," said David Rosenstein, director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life--Southern California (COEJL/SC), which, along with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is sponsoring the festival's Environmental Pavilion. "Many people are not aware that their deep concern for the environment has a Jewish base. We want people to leave with a sense of their responsibilities and to know that this is a Jewish issue."
The pavilion will feature the DWP's "Green Power for a Green L.A." program of renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy sources; a display of electric and hybrid vehicles; and exhibits by Heal the Bay, California Wildlife Center, Coalition for Clean Air, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Shalom Nature Center and Sierra Club. During the festival, COEJL/SC will join with members of the Los Angeles City Council to present the third annual Jewish Environmentalist of the Year award to co-recipients Mark Gold of Heal the Bay and the NRDC's Gail Feuer (wife of City Council member and city attorney candidate Mike Feuer).
Children visiting the festival can participate in conservation projects such as planting saplings with TreePeople. Festival organizers are also making a conscious effort to respect the environment during the event: the main stage will be solar-powered; volunteers from Clean and Green will provide recycling containers and pick up litter, and food vendors are being strongly encouraged to use recycled or biodegradable plates and cups instead of Styrofoam, that enemy of all that is green.
Rosenstein said he hopes visitors' festival experience will encourage them to get involved with one of the featured organizations or at least spur them on to create and implement environmental programs for their synagogues and schools.
"I don't think the Jewish population is any less negligent than the population at large," he said. "But certain people have the intuitive sense that, as a socially responsible Jew, they have a moral imperative to care for Creation. The United States comprises 5 percent of the world population but contributes 25 percent of the greenhouse gases, which are projected to cause millions of deaths in the coming decades. If that isn't a moral issue, I don't know what is."
In addition to environmentally themed centers, the festival will also host the traditional booths for the gamut of local Jewish agencies, ranging from Abraham Joshua Heschel Day Schools to the Zimmer Children's Museum. The Jewish Journal will be raffling off prizes, including tickets to Dodger Stadium and Universal Studios, and will also feature a children's drawing contest, where the theme will be "What can you do to protect the environment?"
And, of course, there is the food, much of it under kosher supervision and some of it quite interesting, like the (kosher) Greek salad or pesto tuna salad in a taco shell being offered by the Marriott Hotel.
First-time festival director Dawn DeRoy Muroff said she and her staff are working hard to make the festival more user-friendly than the previous one at CSUN. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance hired a parking company to monitor the lots and extra security to help keep the area safe for the estimated 30,000 people expected throughout the day. Efforts were made to ensure enough activities to interest toddlers, teenagers, singles and seniors; booth occupants were encouraged to create interactive displays, although not too high-tech.
"People recommended having computers (at various booths), but I really had a visceral reaction to that," Muroff said. "I really want people to interact with people at this festival."
Muroff said she hopes the festival will convey the spirit of all that the Valley Jewish community has to offer. "This is a very safe way for people reticent to walk into a synagogue to find something that speaks to them," she said.
Taubman said he just hopes the event will give Jews from all walks of life a much-needed break from the high-speed pursuit that Los Angeles life represents.
"I just want people to stop at some point and say a shehecheyanu, a 'thank you' to God for bringing me here and letting me live in this space and time," he said. "So often, we live life in retrospect and hindsight. It would be great to just have one day to live in the present moment."