“Simcha” The 25th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festivalby Brie Stimson May 28, 2018
JFest Artistic Director Todd Salovey has been with the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival since the very beginning. “The first year was one day at the Lyceum Theatre,” he remembered. “We started at about noon on Sunday morning and we ended about eight o’clock, and we did everything in one day.”
That was back in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the festival is nearly a month long and spans five different venues (The Lyceum, Encinitas Library, North Coast Rep, the Lawrence Family JCC and Adat Yeshurun in La Jolla). “It’s been remarkable seeing how much the festival means and has meant to so many people,” he said.
Salovey never intended to stay with the festival for long. “I think about the moment when Doug Jacobs came up to me in the lobby of the Lyceum and said ‘we’re starting a Jewish arts festival, would you like to be artistic director? And I thought like I’ll do it for a year or two, but it’s not really what I have my mind on, but after the first year when I saw the electricity – I mean, really, it was an experience of simcha. I saw what doing Jewish arts in a professional theater and bringing audiences from across numerous communities, the kind of pride and excitement and ownership that people felt when they saw it. That kind of joy became really intoxicating for me and I’m aiming to do that every year.”
Salovey’s learned a lot during his 25 years with the festival. “Sometimes I had to learn the hard way. They say you learn more from your failures than your successes, and in those first four or five years when I would do the occasional shows where the audience would get restless.”
During their first klezmer summit, Salovey said he put on a band that was talented, but the audience felt was not klezmer, “and a third of the audience left. And I had to kind of learn … what an audience expects, and if I’m going to push those boundaries, how to cultivate and invite the audience to go along with me as I push those boundaries. I‘ve really learned a lot about Jewish arts in the last 25 years.”
In a first this year, a comedian, Elon Gold, will perform at the festival (June 14). “He’s become quite a well known comedian, in part because he has a routine on why Jews don’t have Christmas trees, in which he shows what people using Talmudic logic would do if they tried to have the proper Christmas tree in their home and how it might look from a Jewish perspective,” he laughed. Gold has performed multiple times on the “Tonight Show,” he did a one-hour comedy special on Netflix and has been on shows like “Chappelle’s Show,” “Frasier” and “The Mentalist.”
On opening night, they will premiere their Jewish Festival Gallery, which will display classic photos from the history of modern Jerusalem and another gallery with photos from Yale Strom’s trips across Eastern Europe, meeting with Jewish and Romanian musicians.
On the second night, they will have the 17th annual klezmer summit with house band Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi. “People just love the music and musicianship that he and his band bring,” Salovey noted. Other Klezmer artists playing include Alexander Gourevitch and Freilechs, singer Elizabeth Schwartz, contrabass virtuoso Bert Turetsky, jazz all-star Gilbert Castellanos and fiddler Myla Wingard Rosen.
“So we’re really bringing together some of the highlights of all the years of the klezmer summit for that evening, and like always, we give the audience free kosher knishes at intermission,” Salovey added.
He also noted a few new items this year. Singer Perla Batalla will do a musical piece about Leonard Cohen. “She was a backup singer on the road with Leonard Cohen for many years, and he was her mentor,” he added. Batalla will do a tribute evening at San Diego Rep called House of Cohen.
The ninth annual Women of Valor will honor six women in the San Diego community. This year’s honorees are Dr. Ellen Beck, Marsha Berkson, Sura Leider, Evelyn Rady, Ruth Sax and Jill Spitzer.
A staged reading of “The Mudanza An Unapologetic Bilingual Play” will be performed by Teatro Punto y Coma on June 16 at the Lyceum, and the same night “In Every Generation,” a play “based on a family’s Pesach Passover Seders over 2,000 years,” will be performed at North Coast Rep. The play was written by JFest Assistant Director Ali Viterbi.
Pianist Jacquelyne Silver will be at the Encinitas Library, mandolin and clarinet player Andy Statman will be at the Lawrence Family JCC and Salovey’s own play, “Losing the Nobel Prize,” which is based on UCSD Professor Brian Keating’s book by the same name, will be performed as a staged reading at Adat Yeshurun on June 26. Keating will lead a panel discussion on science and religion after the performance.
“We are definitely trying to make it a little special,” Salovey said. “We recognize with the 25th year with our gala that we’re reaching out to new audiences … who may not have experienced the festival as much as other people. I think that more than any year we have some real marquee performances.”
Salovey said JFest differentiates itself from most other Jewish festivals in that its cornerstone is premiering and developing new work here that eventually moves on to other parts of the country and world. “I think that’s what I’m most proud of, he said, “that we’ve encouraged artists to do more Jewish work. We encourage arts organizations to pay more attention to Jewish work and do more Jewish work, and we’ve just nurtured a lot of wonderful new work that has spoken to many people here and in many other venues.”
“I also feel that it’s really important in the future that we continue to inspire the next generation and we pass the festival on with as much passion and excitement to the next generation and generations as we have for it. So I always have an eye to how can we develop new audiences, how do we engage new artists and how do we empower people to feel ownership with the festival.”
The festival runs through June 27. Go to sdrep.org for tickets and information.