Sacramento’s Jewish Heritage Festival—Celebrating Kibbutzim, Schwarmas, and Jewish American Heritage Month

by Elissa Provance

Looking for Israeli dancing? A piece of Judaica? A falafel, perhaps?

You can find all that and more on May 2, 2010 when the West Steps of the state’s Capitol are transformed into an Israeli shuk during the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region’s Jewish Heritage Festival.

Coinciding with Lag B’Omer and in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, this annual event kicks off with an Israel Unity Walk and the release of dozens of doves, the universal symbol of peace.

“As American Jews we get the best of both worlds,” said Festival Project Manager Caren Zorman. “We get to openly celebrate and embrace our Judaism, while also participating in a public celebration of Israel’s independence and statehood.”

In honor of this year’s theme, “The Centennial of the Kibbutz Movement,” Sacramento-area religious schools are creating displays that highlight different kibbutz industries, such as drip irrigation, flower production, and spas/retreats, and educating the public about what each industry does while offering hands-on activities.

Matisyahu

“We want to show everything about kibbutzim,” Zorman said. “How they started, how they have grown, what they are today, and their value to the Israeli economy.”

Master of Ceremony Sen. Darrell Steinberg will address the crowd as will Congressman Dan Lungren. Invited guests include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Congresswoman Doris Matsui, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and Councilman Steve Cohn.

This year’s entertainment features Matisyahu, whose 2009 release, One Day, was a theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Grammy-nominated artist has toured in the United States, South America, Europe, Canada, Israel, and Australia and recently appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and the PBS series, The Jewish Americans.

Also on the entertainment program is The Los Angeles Israeli Dance Team, directed by David Dassa, son of Israeli dance choreographer Dani Dassa. The dance troupe has performed at Festival Aviv in Mexico City, the Boston Israeli Dance festival, the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, and two NBA halftime shows for the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Everyone will find something to do and learn— from the Ultra Orthodox to those who are completely unaffiliated and Jewish in name only,” said Zorman. “This event has something for everyone.”

She’s not kidding either. Slamson of Sacramento Kings fame and Dinger from the Sacramento River Cats also will make appearances, as will juggler and storyteller Izzy Tooinsky. Additional festivities include a fashion show featuring local designers and models; a food court with everything from schwarmas to falafels to hot dogs; and a variety of vendors who will showcase jewelry, Judaica, custom quilts, glass art, and more. Children’s activities include a bounce house, a rock climbing wall, and carnival games ($5 buys you an all-you-can-ride wristband). A special tikkum olam section offers an opportunity for visitors to donate blood and to register for bone marrow transplants.

Pres. George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month on April 20, 2006, following the successful celebration of the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History in May 2004.

With an anticipated attendance of 3,000 people, Zorman, who has been a project manager for Intel, Hewlett Packard, and former Gov. Pete Wilson, said, “People who are Jewish should celebrate being Jewish and learn about their culture. This event is for people who want to reconnect with Judaism in a non-threatening way.”

The ultimate goal, she added, is that “the Jewish community as a whole can feel good about themselves. This is about how we, as Jews, celebrate our heritage.”

Elissa Provance is Managing Editor of The Jewish Voice, Communications Director for the WestEd Center for Prevention and Early Intervention, Co-President of Sisterhood for Mosaic Law Congregation, and a freelance writer, but her favorite job is mom to her 13-year-old twin daughters. In her spare time… wait, what spare time? Visit her website at elissaprovance.writersresidence.com.

The Jewish Heritage Festival is Sunday, May 2, 2010, 1:00-4:30 p.m. at the West Steps of the Capitol. For sponsorship opportunities or general information, contact Zorman at 916.486.0906, x. 303. To volunteer, contact Michelle Masoner at 916.486.0906. To sign up in advance to donate blood, visit www.jewishsac.org.

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