Diversity, good vibes bloom at Israel in the Gardens

The j. recently published a story on this month's Israel in the Gardens celebration, which attracted over 20,000 attendees! Below is a reprint of the article, courtesy of the j. The story was written by correspondent Jennifer Wadsworth. All photos posted below were taken by yours truly, Joy Powers. The term “melting pot” is usually used to describe the diversity of the United States, but on June 1, it also applied to the annual Israel in the Gardens festival in San Francisco. People of many different nationalities and backgrounds — along with a wide cross-section of Jews speaking various languages — came together at Yerba Buena Gardens to celebrate Israel’s 60th year as a sovereign nation. The annual festival, according to organizers, attracted upward of 20,000 attendees, vendors and performers — and protesters. Performances, exhibits and a vendor marketplace demonstrated the unity and strength of the Jewish community, both locally and worldwide, said organizer Ronit Jacobs of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the event’s host organization. “This is the Israel we all know about but is so rarely portrayed,” Jacobs noted. “On its 60th birthday, we have so much pride in what this little nation has done.” Celebrations in other cities were taking place as Israel in the Gardens kicked off at the verdant spot off Mission Street. Like the celebrations across the globe, those gathered at Yerba Buena Gardens witnessed the ceremonial release of 60 doves — one for every year of the state’s existence — in a show of good will and visual prayer for peace. Comedienne Kira Soltanovich, born in the Soviet Union and raised by immigrant parents in San Francisco, emceed the event and kept the crowd entertained with her wisecracks and self-deprecating humor. A fashion show featuring the work of student designers elicited applause and cheers from thousands of onlookers on the lawn. Music headliners included Israeli rock and folk, and there were even reggae dancers. And, no, the music did not stop when the fair ended; people simply continued dancing in the park. “The energy is just incredible,” Jonaya Black, 13, said of the entertainment. “It really just shows the bond people can have over art, food, culture and family. We’re all family here.” Susan and David Buki drove from Sacramento to attend. “I love the music, the booths, everything,” Susan said. “I just enjoy the environment.” For her husband, an Israeli immigrant who has lived in the United States for 40 years, the diversity of the event was not only profound, but it also made for some interesting conversations. “We find people to disagree with here,” he said. Which is not such a bad thing, Susan countered. “It makes for some stimulating exchanges,” she said with a laugh. On the opposite side of Mission Street, police barricades cordoned off vocal protesters, who held up Palestinian flags and shouted disparaging remarks to the celebratory crowd across the boulevard. “It’s a calm crowd,” said officer David Kenner of the San Francisco Police Department, who was assigned to the event. “We haven’t had any trouble this year.” Some protesters came early to Yerba Buena Gardens and stamped “Zionism is racism” on the surrounding sidewalks. The Bukis, meanwhile, were put off by a group stationed near the Gardens’ entrances, proffering “Jews for Jesus” pamphlets to the visitors. “It makes me upset,” Susan said. “But it’s to be expected.” For most of the people who gathered, the day was a way to reflect on the decades of accomplishment Israel. Overwhelmingly, the pride of nationhood of heritage and shared struggles was expressed in conversation, art and familial camaraderie, several attendees noted. “The protests don’t faze me,” said Jeremy Solly, a San Francisco native and Orthodox Jew who attended with his 5-year-old daughter, Sylvie. “I’m just here to celebrate my religion, my heritage and my culture. It means a lot to me to be here today.” Organizer Jacobs agreed. “The event was amazing,” she said the following day. “There was an emotional high during the entire day. [We were] all feeling as one around the beauty and life of our community. It was just amazing.”

All the photos above and more are available for viewing and purchase at the JCF's photo gallery. Click here to see them.
Categories: Events, Israel


June 17, 2008


The Federation