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Festival Celebrates 'Just Being Jewish'

Organizers of the Woodland Hills event turn the focus away from politics for a day.

September 08, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 30,000 people gathered at Pierce College in Woodland Hills on Sunday to dance to Israeli folk music, watch performances by Jewish rock musicians and browse booths offering everything from hand-embroidered yarmulkes to kosher cookbooks and bat mitzvah planning services.

The 11th biannual Los Angeles Jewish Festival was declared a "politics-free day" at which families and friends could come together and enjoy "just being Jewish," said festival chairwoman Nancy Parris Moskowitz.

"You've got Orthodox Jews, Reformists, Conservatives," she said. "It's a community festival."

The event offered children's rides, storytelling and music from the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, the Nudniks comedic musical group and an Eastern European rock group.

More than 200 vendors stretched down a long walkway, selling a variety of goods including yellow rhinestone Star of David necklaces, a wine fountain made of nickel, silver candlesticks and a menorah made of pewter.

Laura Cohn, 40, of Valley Village spent the afternoon looking for the perfect mezuza, an ornamental box containing a prayer from the Torah, to hang on the doorpost in her home. She said she appreciated the family-oriented atmosphere.

"There's not a lot of fear-based propaganda going on," she said. "And that's good because that is getting really tiring in the news."

Front-page headlines on Sunday announced that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had resigned, throwing the Mideast peace initiative into disarray.

While most who attended Sunday's festival tried to keep their minds off politics, some could not. Hernan Kohan, 26, who moved to North Hollywood three years ago from Argentina, drank a can of soda while watching people dance to Israeli folk music. He said he awoke Sunday and read the news about Abbas on the Internet and in an Argentine newspaper.

Abbas "was one of the only Palestinian politicians working for peace," he said.

Kohan came to the festival because it included an area where people could donate money for the Jewish people in his native country. He said he wanted to help because Argentina has been suffering from economic and political instability.

"I think about it a lot.... I wish it will get better, the situation in Israel and Argentina," he said.

Around the corner from a Jewish matchmaking booth and several yards away from the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Stitchery table, Becquie Kishineff displayed several jigsaw puzzles with phrases written on them, like "Let us be like the lines that lead to the center of a circle uniting there and not like parallel lines that never join."

It was part of a project to unite the world, Kishineff said. People wrote their names on the backs of the puzzle pieces before linking them together.

"It's strictly an awareness project. It's not to support any political agenda; it's just to support peace," she said.

College student Ali Silver, 23, noted that despite the organizers' intent to avoid politics, political messages were not absent. Some vendors were selling T-shirts that read, "America Don't Worry, Israel is Behind You," and hooded green sweatshirts that read, "Israeli Defense."

But Silver said she wasn't bothered by such subtle undertones, and spent the day learning about her community.

Besides, she added while trying to cool off with a battery-operated mini-fan given to her by a vendor, the festival is one of the only places "you can get good falafel."

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