Israel Fest is Back

by Tina B. Eshel April 29, 2016



This year, Jewish Federation of San Diego brings back a full-scale celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, on Sunday, May 15. Unlike last year’s economized event, the 2016 Israel Fest looks more like the events from three and four years ago, with live entertainment, Israeli dancing and music, kid-friendly activities, interactive games, kosher food, plus the triumphant return of community booths and an Israeli marketplace.

The event will be held for the first time at the San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley, on their main field, from 2-5 p.m.

Heather Wolfson, senior director of community partnerships for Federation, credits the Israel Fest committee, whose members are anonymous, for creating the framework for a return to the larger program. Their goal was to answer two questions: “‘why is this day important?’ and, ‘what are the critical components?’ of Israel Fest,” she says from her corner office at Federation headquarters in Kearny Mesa. “This group was really able to help us focus our energy and efforts, and we’re on!”

What the committee determined was that Israel Fest San Diego is a much-anticipated event for all ages, an important gathering that connects San Diego’s Jewish community, but specifically its youth, to Israel in a positive way.

“I think that this event helps to bring people out from the wider community for a variety of reasons … Clearly, the event is free and … you can opt-in as you want,” Wolfson says.

The event in its various forms has always been successful in bringing out a large crowd, even those who are not extremely connected with other aspects of Jewish life.

The festival intends to offer a chance to celebrate and explore Israel without getting mired in the politics.

“We think this is one time in our community we can actually celebrate Israel without having to worry about the [political] contention,” she says. “This is an opportunity to show off what Israel has to offer. The community helps to rally around Israel in this context as well. As we are designing this program, this event, we really are trying to be intentional.”

Expect “lively entertainment,” with performances from Jonathan Valverde, students at Kavod Elementary, members of Tarbuton, Shevet Galim Israel Scouts and the Ken Jewish dance troupe. San Francisco band, The Peatot will headline, with music that pays tribute to Israel with music from the past four decades, according to their website.

As in past years, the Friendship Circle 5K Walk will take place at the start of Israel Fest to raise money for programming that supports social opportunities for children and adults with special needs. People can register ($20 online, $30 on-site, day of event) on the Friendship Circle website or through the Federation. Baron’s Market has agreed to donate fruit and water for walk participants.

New this year will be something organizers are calling the “Graffiti Wall.” Allison Madwatkins, an attorney, artist and chair of Shabbat Connections for Federation’s NextGen Board, came up with the idea.

“I love the symbolism of the Tree of Life,” she says. “I think it’s a fabulous symbol of Judaism.”

She’s working on a mural with the Tree and U.S. and Israeli flags in the background. At the festival, people will be invited to decorate leaves to place on the Tree, showing solidarity with Israel.

“We see [the Tree of Life] in every synagogue. We plant trees abroad when we go to Israel. … I think of that kid’s song, ‘it’s the tree of life, everyone who hold fast to it, are happy.’”

As always, it takes a village to pull off an event expected to draw 3,000. The full list of partners can be found on the website, and expect to see booths with more information and giveaways throughout the festival. San Diego Jewish Journal will also be there, manning a booth and giving out subscriptions, so be sure to come by and say hello.

More details at


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