Israel's big 65th Birthday bash was this past Sunday and Israeli blue and white flags fluttered in the breeze on a beautiful day in Rancho Park. The park was transformed into Israel as the smell of Israeli food wafted through the air as Israeli music blared and Hebrew was everywhere. Except, it felt like a small Israeli village instead of Tel Aviv because the park was nearly empty.
Before I criticize the fact that only 10,000 people attended (I am being generous) I need to congratulate the festival organizers the Israeli American Council (IAC) and festival producer Adee Drory because it was a first rate festival on production values alone. From very easy parking and fast shuttle buses ( not even waiting a minute) to the beautiful decorations,stages, entertainment and the first ever outdoor bar, it was first class production all the way and for that I say "Kol Hakavod" (all the power).
HOWEVER...... the festival lacked people and this is what I need to talk about. The attendance was way down from last year's 15,000+ in a city that boasts over 550,000 Jews and tens of thousands of Israelis (both legal and illegal ok I'll be pc and say undocumented) happy? Now first off, the festival had the misfortune of being of falling on the same week as the tragic terrorist attack in Boston. And despite being a hardy bunch many Israelis and Americans stayed home letting their fears get the best of them. Many families didn't want to take a chance with their kids and refused to go. Who can blame them? I am single and I am only responsible for myself. I don't have kids, so I can't criticize.
Now the biggest reason families didn't show up was the cost. The IAC took control over the festival two years ago and moved it to Rancho Park. The festival which was for many years in the Valley, used to be only a few shekels for admission and families came en masse with grills, picnic baskets and it was a "hafla" in the park.
No mas! The new festival does not allow anything to be brought into the park. Nada, Klum, Zilch, so families are forced to buy all their food and drink in the park. At $20 per person cover and $10 per child it can get very expensive. Yes they do have family of 4 discounts of $43 but I digress.
Now add $10 for parking, another $20 for rides for each kid, and another $15 per person for food and drink and it can get very expensive.
And this is where the IAC has lost touch with the average Shlomo. Many Israeli as well as many American families are struggling to make ends meet. Many families do not have $200 to spend the day in "little Tel Aviv". The festival organizers need to reduce the cover and I promise double or triple the crowd will show up. Celebrating Israel shouldn't be just for the rich. Remember most of us here are the "amcha" (the simple people). Moreover, the Israeli community is taken for granted. They should be invited not just placing colorful ads up with the festival info expecting people to show up but inviting them to feel apart of something special.
Next, more effort must be made to attract American Jews. The Westside, which is about 80% Jewish (okay, I exaggerate, but there's A LOT) should attract tens of thousands to a fun Jewish day in the park if they felt included and there was something in it for them. There are thousands of Russian Jews in LA who were not present . Why? They are huge supporters of Israel and many have relatives there. Russians have transformed Israel into a first class country. Why not have a Russian stage and Russian community things to do at the festival to attract the regular Vadim's and Marina's of the community. More effort must be made to attract this community.
Equally, the Persian Jewish community numbering at least 20,000 people should show up en masse as well. So too the Evangical Christians. They love Israel and the Jewish people. This is a win- win situation for all involved.
In the weeks before the Festival the organizers did exhaustive outreach to many parts of the community. They generated buzz and excitement. But at the end of the day, what matters is who actually walks through the gates.
There should be no reason why the festival can't attract 50,000 people or more. It's in the realm of possibility. Now having organized and produced Israel's 50th anniversary festival in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley for the Jewish Federatiion there, I know how much hard work and effort was made to produce this festival. I can tell you that I collapsed on stage during that festival and was in bed for 5 days afterwards because of exhaustion.
The only "fedechas" ( f...up) of this near perfect production was an Israeli singer who shall remain nameless, who sang the National Anthem in such poor English the crowd was roaring with laughter. They should have a big American celebrity to sing this not an Israeli. Remember be more inclusive. Moreover, they should have a red carpet full of American celebrities to attend this community event like we did when created " Live for Sderot" when I worked at the Israeli Consulate. We had over 60 celebrities walk the red carpet. They can have a VIP tent and charge money to drink with the celebrities. And lastly, limit the speeches on stage to no more than 2 minutes. Less is better. I get it -- Jews like to talk -- but enough.
I hope the IAC listens and hears what I am telling them, so that next year the festival will draw tens of thousands of people and the community will have a beautiful festival for the people to enjoy it.
This blog has been edited from the original version to reflect factual changes. For more on the Journal's coverage of the Celebrate Israel Festival, click here.