Virtual Israel

The moment attendees entered the huge "Jaffa Gate" flanked by date palms — made by Cherri Shiffman and her team — all things Israeli were in the air.

The Jerusalem Marketplace bustled with shoppers buying up everything from silk art to dollar-a-minute massages.

Starting with a base of falafel from either Holy Land or Sabra Grill, those wanting to eat their way through Israel sampled diverse culinary delights: spicy Ethiopian vegetarian stew from Asmara Restaurant, New York cheesecake from Livermore's Congregation Beth Emek, Russian knishes and apple turnovers from Jewish Family and Children's Service of the East Bay, and all-American kosher hot dogs from Oakland's Temple Sinai Brotherhood, to name but a few.

As people danced joyously to live Israeli bands on the wide grassy lawn, others got tips on Israeli folk dance from the pros of Hadera Dance Troupe in the gym.

Kids raced around visiting all the "cities" at "Passport Israel," set up and run by 50 teens who will be on the federation's Israel trip this summer plus those from Young Judaea. Virtual travelers freeze-danced in Tel Aviv, fished in the Red Sea and crawled the walled maze of Jerusalem — which was actually an inflatable carnival attraction.

During the closing ceremony, with a moving, living menorah, few were dry-eyed. Paul Hed, a veteran of the 1948 War of Independence and Sgt. David Yishai of the Israel Air Force came on stage to light a candle representing Israelis who have served and given their lives.

Others cried tears of joy as more than 250 children from six congregations and El Cerrito's Tehiyah Day School sang during the East Bay Zimria (songfest).

The festival was made possible by a grant from the federation's Jewish Community Foundation.