Sunday in the park with matchmaking, massage, merriment

Singles came in search of romance. Couples came to celebrate their love for one another. Others simply wanted to frolic in the park on a sunny afternoon.

There was room for all of the above on Sunday at a community celebration of Tu B'Av in Golden Gate Park's Marx Meadow.

The San Francisco event, known as Barefoot in the Park, brought together singles and couples for fun, friendship, romance, creativity, and renewal. It was sponsored by the Koret Synagogue Initiative of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel and Simcha, the synagogue's young adult group.

"Tu B'Av is a little-known holiday that marks the transition of mourning for the destruction of the Second Temple during Tisha B'Av to the renewal of the High Holy Days," said Janice Weinstein, Koret Initiative program director for Sherith Israel.

On the 15th of Av, she said, "the daughters of Israel used to dress in white and go out into the fields to dance and young men would follow after them."

Tu B'Av's themes of fun, romance and affirmation of life and love of self and God were celebrated with a multitude of activities: Israeli singing and dancing, poetry readings, massages, psychic readings and volleyball, football and Frisbee playing.

A dating board, twister free-for-all and a personals ad writing workshop were offered for singles. And there were plenty of activities suitable for couples.

"[It's] an opportunity for Sherith Israel to promote a sense of community to young adults with no affiliation, especially around the High Holy Holidays," said Weinstein.

Elena of San Francisco, who would not give her full name, said she came to the event because she hasn't been able to find many casual Jewish singles activities.

Although Elena was filling out a dating board message, she said the crowd seemed a little young for her. "But it's a nice event and I'm having fun."

Micah Liedeker, 35, also of San Francisco said he didn't think of Barefoot in the Park as a singles event.

"To me it's a day to come out and be with my friends from Simcha," he said. After his shift as a volunteer, Liedeker said he was heading over to the Israeli dancing.

Near the entrance to Marx Meadow, about 25 Israeli dancers followed the lead of instructor Phil Hankin like newcomers at an aerobics class.

After the brief lesson, the dancers hopped and skipped hand-in-hand to the sounds of Israeli folk music.

Following the dancing, Gail Foorman led a group singing spirited Israeli songs. A few feet away, Marc Krell sang along. Krell, 28, of San Francisco was there with his wife.

"It's a day for lovers to get together and frolic in the park," he said. "It's just a great day to come out, be with friends and enjoy the weather."

At the dating board, Alfonso Gumucio, 28, of San Francisco was checking out the women seeking men section.

"There's a couple that I'd like to respond to," he said with a laugh. Gumucio said he put a message up and is waiting to see if he received any responses. "It's fun," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity to meet people here."

Joel Birch, 39, of Mountain View said he came to get out of the heat. "I did twister, ate some food, and now I'm thinking about the dating board."

Birch said he liked the idea of seeing different people besides the usual crowd he runs into at most singles events.

"This event offers a choice of things to do rather than just being in a pick-up environment," Birch said. "I'm not putting pressure on myself to meet anyone. If I find things that are fun to do that's great, and if I meet new people or see old friends in the process, that's even better."

Event chair Bonnie Wolf and Weinstein agreed the day created a sense of community with fun events full of Jewish content.

However, both said they were disappointed with the turnout. The five-hour event drew some 200 people.

"We were expecting about 400 people, but because of the Jerry Garcia memorial and the traffic warnings we didn't get the number of people we expected," Weinstein said. "But more importantly, we still had fun."