To carry out this year's theme, "The Tapestry of Jewish Life," festival coordinator Lori Klein asked the nearly 100 participating synagogues and organizations to each come up with interactive booths that reflect what Judaism and Jewish life means to them.
"We wanted them to show participants how they fit into and contribute to the larger tapestry of Jewish life in Los Angeles," Klein said.
Among the more creative booths: Pierce and Valley College Hillel will do a computerized search on the origins of visitors' first names; the Jewish asthma center will do lung testing (a measure sure to produce interesting results in the smoggy North Valley); and the folks from Making Marriage Work plan to put up a chuppah display.
The move from Pierce College to the larger CSUN campus has enabled festival organizers to make several longed-for changes this year. The popular Children's Park has been expanded to include free arts and crafts booths designed around the "Tapestry of Jewish Life" theme. Kids will be able to make kiddush cups, candlesticks for Shabbat, flower pots and picture frames as mementos of the day. Hungry festival-goers can choose from a dozen different booths that feature kosher and glatt kosher cuisine.
The newest addition to the festival is the "Teen Scene" area for middle- and high-school students. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Valley Alliance, youth-group members from United Synagogue Youth, the National Federation of Temple Youth, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization and local Jewish Community Centers have designed an area to appeal to teens; Israeli dancing, a Velcro wall, a spinning gyro and hands-on organizational booths are among the attractions. Save Ferris, one of the hottest bands in the local music scene today, will perform.
"It's a great chance to catch up with people you haven't seen in awhile and meet new people," said Jeff Kaplan, director of teen services for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
A partnership of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, local synagogues, community organizations and corporate sponsors, the biennial celebration of Valley Jewish life began in 1986 as the Exodus Festival, dedicated to raising awareness and funds on behalf of Soviet Jewry. The festival continues its theme of social action this year with the emphasis on the war in Kosovo. A special Valley Jewish Festival "passport" (which looks like a backstage concert pass) will be available for $5, with proceeds going toward Kosovo refugee relief efforts. At a 2 p.m. ceremony, which will feature the Children of the World Choir, awards will be given to several organizations, including the Joint Distribution Committee, Valley Interfaith Council Crop Walk, American Jewish World Services, B'nai B'rith, Women's American ORT and the American Jewish Committee, by the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Valley Alliance.
In addition, representatives from city and state government will present the Vlashi family, recently rescued from Kosovo with the help of Jewish organizations, with certificates officially welcoming them to the Los Angeles area.
"We're honored to be recognizing the humanitarian efforts of four local synagogues and the host families who are providing housing and other support for the Kosovo refugees," said Scott Svonkin, JCRC chair. "We're happy to be able to bring everyone together -- elected officials, rescue organizations -- to celebrate this deed of loving kindness."