The Summitby Jacqueline Bull June 5, 2019
I think from the very beginning I realized that Jewish performance that is beautifully done gives a great feeling of pride to Jews and to non-Jews. For Jewish people, we get a sense of how amazing it to see something that speaks to us and a beautifully representation of our culture and some of its people. And for non Jews I think it helps them connect to something which is universal and also to understand their Jewish neighbors a little more,” Todd Salovey said.
Todd Salovey continues to be the artistic vision and director for JFest, steering the ship and delighting in sharing new Jewish stories. JFest (the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival) is back for its 26th year with new venues, new shows and plenty of reprisals that are back by popular demand.
“I was at a workshop at the Leichtag Commons this year and it was a group of Jewish farmers. And the facilitator called for a ten minute coffee break,” he said. He was at the Hive, the coworking space at The Leichtag Commons.
“And as soon as the coffee break was called, she started to sing ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ an old Bob Dylan song from the Desire album and I just felt like, ‘My gosh so many Jewish people have a long relationship with Bob Dylan’s music, we should do something about his work.’ And then it occurred it me that a band I really love, Soulfarm, has recorded several of Dylan’s songs on their CD’s–’Forever Young’ and others. And I called them up and said, ‘Would you perform and host a Bob Dylan night for the festival.’ And they were really excited about it,” he said.
“Knocking on Dylan’s Door” will go up on June 4 at the Lyceum space. This burst of coffee related inspiration led to a second event as well.
“Every year I look for different venues that are just interesting and beautiful venues in North County. You know we’ve done Encinitas Library for many years and New Village Arts and North Coast Rep. And I was looking for a new venue and thought, ‘We partnered for so many years with the Leichtag Foundation, how about we do something on their beautiful ground?’ I’m working with Jenny from the Hive and she suggested the idea of doing a sundown sunset concert. And I thought, ‘Wow, Soulfarm on the ranch at sunset–what a great combination.’”
For “Sunset with Soulfarm on the Farm” (June 5), they are inviting people to bring picnics and watch the sun go down with a good band from a truly beautiful venue, (“When you are on the more elevated parts, looking out over the ocean, just the view is spectacular.”) They are encouraging people to bring their families and have made tickets for all under eighteen free.
“We also felt like the holiday of Shavuot in ancient Israel was commemorating the first fruit and so how great to be right around, right in the week of Shavuot to be celebrating the holiday of the first fruits on the farm,” Todd said.
In the galleries downtown, curator Marley Healy selected two compelling Jewish themed shows for the festival. This year they have two colorful shows: “Grown California” by Judith Shufro which highlights the beauty of California produce and a Chagall-esque watercolor series, “My Moments” by Israeli-born Guri Stark.
One of the festival signature pieces is the Women of Valor event.
“It is incredible that over ten years, we have profiled more than 60 women, each of whom has contributed to the San Diego community Jewish and non Jewish in many ways. Some are out there in front, serving in congress or running medical units, some very quietly, some very behind-the-scenes people. And the group that we have this year all have tremendously interesting stories. I’m always very honored that people, who are often very private, allow us to interview them and create a theatrical piece about their stories.”
Todd, Ali Viterbi, and Sarah Price Keating keep lists of possible candidates they would like to honor. They chose people from many different corners of the Jewish community: artists, women in politics, women who are involved in charities, women who have done good deeds, etc. (“People who have made unique and important contributions to the San Diego Jewish and greater community.”)
“We create lists of them and try to create a grouping of people whose stories together will make a very interesting larger story, so then we choose each year six or seven and ask them if they’ll let us profile them. The classic answer when we ask someone if they would be one of our women of valor…[is] ‘I’m not really a woman of Valor,’ And when they say that, we know we’ve made the right choice,” he said.
They spend a couple of hours interviewing each woman and have a set of questions they always ask: Have you had a teacher or a mentor or a guide who has influenced you? What makes you happy? What do you feel has been your greatest test and where did you find the strength to meet that test?
“And over the course of the interview, and the stories that people tell us, we develop the material that we then weave in the show that we create. And for ten years, we’ve created a new show each year,” he said.
Fittingly, one of the benefits of the event this year is Chabad of Poway in honor of Lori Gilbert Kaye.
Another one of the signature pieces of the festival is the klezmer summit. This evening is so aptly named because it feels as if it is a conference with a new topic each year and, “Every year we have a new angle on what we are going to do for klezmer summit. And it is something that Yale Strom and I talk about all year. Every couple of weeks, we ring each other up and say ‘Well what are we going to do this year,’” he said.
Something that was of interest to both Todd and Yale was the cross influence of other genres in klezmer. African American blues music has influenced Yale and Hot Pstromi and according to Todd, the history of blues and Jews is inter-tangled.
“I think there is a part of klezmer that is looking at the difficulty of life and making
celebratory music out of it. I think there is a real connection to blues music and Jewish klezmer music. And I think also there is the wail of the clarinet or the wail of the violin and the wail of the blues guitar are certainly at least cousins of each other.”
“This concert is going to look at blues music played in Jewish style and traditionally Jewish music played in blues style. And we’re super excited about the guests that we have everything from 90-year-old blues all stars Tomcat Courtney, to Sue Palmer who has her own following…Yale is such a versatile musician and his band are such great musicians. It is so much fun and so interesting to see them play in a variety of styles,” he said.
And back by popular demand is Perla Batalla.
“Last year we did the Perla Batalla evening about Leonard Cohen’s music and it was a complete sell out and one of the most remarkably uplifting and poetic evenings in the theater I have ever experienced.”
Todd was so excited about it that he asked her to put together some different songs and come back and do the performance again. And she agreed.
“Certain shows that we do draw crowds as if they were a popular San Diego arts and culture event that isn’t even necessarily Jewish and I love when we have audiences
that come from across the communities. I think it helps build bridges and create understanding and I just love it,” he said.
“I love [how] the festival helps to encourage some of the mainstream San Diego arts organizations to feel encouraged to explore Jewish themes in their own work and we help them provide a platform to support the show artistically and help them reach audiences,” he said.
As the festival has evolved since its debut in 1994, the integration and cross pollination of “mainstream” art organizations in San Diego and the Jewish community has been so successful there isn’t a hard line between the two any more.
Todd agrees, “If you went back to when we started the festival, people would be very surprised that has happened. I can see it has happened and I think it is, as an audience member I think it is incredible to be able to go to virtually any organization in the county and to be able to see something with such Jewish themes.”
And while he wouldn’t try to take credit it for it, the Jewish Arts Festival and his artistic vision have played a big role in that transformation.
The festival runs through July 11. Go to sdrep.org for tickets and information.