Jewish Journal

Festival-goers this year can party under the moonlight

by Celia Soudry

Posted on May. 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm

For Yoram Gutman, the Israel Independence Day Festival is a yearlong effort.

"The minute one festival ends, I start working on the next," said the Reseda businessman, who has served as the festival's executive director since 1994.

This year's festival, which celebrates Israel's 60th birthday at Woodley Park on May 18, is expected to be a larger, more extravagant affair than in years past. Organizers anticipate more than 50,000 Israelphiles to attend the festival, which is adding three hours this year, stretching the celebration from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"Last year we had 30,000 people participating, but this year, because Israel is celebrating 60, we hope to see more people," Gutman said.

The Israel Independence Day Festival has been a regular feature in Los Angeles since a group of four Israelis hired Israeli performers for a Yom HaAtzmaut show at the Scottish Rite Temple in 1988. About 1,500 people turned out for the first concert, prompting the founders to convince the former North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) in Granada Hills to host a more ambitious event the following year.

By 1990, the crowd had grown to 2,000 -- too big for the NVJCC -- so the festival moved to larger venues such as Hansen Dam Park, drawing 15,000 participants by the late 1990s.

The festival spent many years at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles before moving in 2000 to Woodley Park, where the it now regularly draws about 40,000 each year.

With support from the Israeli Leadership Club, politicians such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are expected to join the festival's ceremonies.

"It makes a strong political statement that the mayor and governor will be there," Gutman said. "They know this is a community they need to care about and listen to."

During the opening ceremony, Schwarzenegger will present the Cherished Friend of the Israeli and Jewish Community of Los Angeles Award to Beny Alagem, an Israeli American entrepreneur and owner of Beverly Hilton Hotel. Syndicated radio show host Dennis Prager will serve as master of ceremonies.

"We wanted to do something extra special this year," said Guy Kochlani, the festival's entertainment director.

Hoping to illuminate the park with a large-scale light show, Kochlani wants the festival to stand out. Following main stage performances by Subliminal & The T.A.C.T. Family (see story on Page 66) as well as Shlomi Shabat, Israeli DJs will spin dance and house music, turning the park into a dance club.

In addition to an Israeli marketplace with 250 booths; a kosher food court featuring shwarma, falafel and kabob; a fashion show; petting zoo and rides, be on the lookout for street performances by Brazilian drummers, Batuclada, Dragon Knights on stilts and martial arts demonstrations by Capoeira.

Also, be sure to stop by The Jewish Journal's booth and reader's lounge to pick up free gifts and meet various authors -- as well as our staff -- as you walk through the festival's marketplace.

Free parking is available along Woodley Avenue as well as in lots across from the park and near Lake Balboa (look for signs). But the festival is encouraging people to avoid jockeying for parking spaces by using nearby MTA lots and riding Orange Line buses, which will run every six minutes. The line features a stop directly outside the festival grounds at Woodley Park.

The Israel Independence Day Festival, Woodley Park, 6350 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. Sunday, May 18, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. $10 per person; children under 2 free. For more information, call (818) 757-0123.

Main Stage

1 p.m.: The Neighbors of Chich pay tribute to Israel with rock songs inspired by Israeli music from the past 60 years.

1:30 p.m.: Official ceremony with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

2:45 p.m.: David Dassa presents Israeli folk dancing.

3:45 p.m.: Belly dancer Margallete entertains.

4 p.m.: Israeli rock band Ram 2.

4:30 p.m.: Israeli rock band Eggroll.

5 p.m.: Batsheva ("Ms. Bodega"), a New York R&B band that blends Middle Eastern and Latin flavor.

5:30 p.m.: Shlomi Shabat and Subliminal

8:30 p.m.: DJ Eyal

9:15 p.m.: DJ Aviel

Cafe Tel Aviv Stage

12:30 p.m.: Teen Movement

1 p.m.: World-renowned Israeli violinist Lior Kaminetsky and the Mediterranean Klezmer Ensemble perform.

1:30 p.m.: Neighbors of Chich

1:45 p.m.: Firebird Balalaika Quartet, a chamber ensemble performs on traditional Russian instruments, such as the domra, the balalaika and the bayan.

2:30 p.m.: Popular L.A. singer Pini Cohen will hold a show featuring Liz Shachar, Jimmy Gamliel, Yosi Levy, Michal Bone, Mali and the band.

3:45 p.m.: Yuval Ron Ensemble

4:30 p.m.: Neighbors of Chich

5:30 p.m.: Nir Ron, the magician.

Children's Stage

All Day: Arts and crafts and music from DJ Ayal.

12:30 p.m.: Little Stars dance group.

1:30 p.m.: Dragon Knights presents a show on stilts.

2 p.m.: Juliana will flip and tumble with gymnastics moves.

2:45 p.m.: Grand Master Roger engages in African American shadow boxing.

3:30 p.m.: Nathan Stein, juggler and magician.

4:15 p.m.: Sierra Dance Studio

5 p.m.: Nathan Stein

Yehuda Halevi Street Theatre

1:10 p.m.: Batuclada

1:20 p.m.: Capoeira

2 p.m.: Dragon Knights

Cafe Tel Aviv Street Theatre

12:30 p.m.: Batuclada, the Brazilian group bangs away on the drums.

12:50 p.m.: The Capoeira group performs Brazilian martial arts.

1:10 p.m.: Dragon Knights entertains on stilts.

Street Theatre Near Food Vendors

12:50 p.m.: Batuclada

1:10 p.m.: Capoeira

1:30 p.m.: Dragon Knights

Writer Ayala Or-el contributed to this article.

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