Festival filled with sukkah, spice and everything nice

But it was San Francisco, and to some it had all the sensations of Jerusalem: Three blocks of Arguello Boulevard in front of Congregation Emanu-El were filled with knish cooks, ketubah artists and klezmer musicians.

The cause for celebration on this unusually warm day was Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival. For the third year, Congregation Emanu-El cordoned off part of the street for the occasion.

Eddy Joseph, 8, with his sister Ava, 6, relished the arts and crafts activities going on in the congregation's courtyard. Ava colored a transparent piece of plastic, making it into a stained glass ornament for her room in the Josephs' San Francisco apartment.

The children also designed mosaics with colored-paper squares on cardboard gilded with a golden background. "It's fun and it gives you muscles because you have to press," Eddy said.

Behind them stood a bushy sukkah, bristling with palm fronds, hay and tree branches. The Joseph kids lamented that because they recently moved into an apartment, they could not build their own sukkah.

Elsewhere at the synagogue, adults filed in and out of a large room that was filled with books and Judaica.

In the general fray of the booths, festival-goers flocked to check out the melange of vendors. There was flavorful fudge, shaped like slices of pizza. There were bonsai plants, garlic-flavored olives and exotic dips. White wine and wheat beer were among the beverage choices.

A balloon-twisting pro pleased the kids by shaping Jewish stars, teddy bears, Blue Angel planes and even the Enterprise ship from Star Trek.

Jacqueline Berg, a San Francisco resident, sold silk tallitot and saddled some buyers with "schlepper" bags so they could carry the day's fill.

"This is my neighborhood, so it's nice to see people walking around," she said. "I've been at the festival each year."

At a booth called Under the Chuppah, Carol Attia of San Leandro sold handmade challah covers, tallitot, "cantors' caps" and towels with Jewish insignia (for Jewish hotels, perhaps?). The good weather — the temperature peaked at around 70 — helped business pick up, Attia said.

Her mother, Dora Kay, sat at the booth and watched the people flow by.

"It's interesting listening to the people talk," she said. "A man came by interested in a chuppah for his gay wedding, but he said he hasn't found a gentleman yet. That was funny — you never know."

The purchaser of one towel was none other than Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, a Lubavitcher from Los Angeles who was recently featured in some California newspapers — including the Bulletin — for his colorful ways of bringing attention to Judaism.

The "Grateful Yid," as his jacket advertised, came armed with lulav and etrog. He called it his "artillery" and pounced on passers-by, asking, "Want to shake my lulav?"

Schwartz came to San Francisco to dance on Simchat Torah that evening with local Chabad groups, but he couldn't resist the lure of the festival. He invited others to do a mitzvah by saying a blessing with lulav and etrog in hand.

"It's not Palm Sunday," he yelled. "There is a real holiday" for the Jews to shake the palm, myrtle and willow branches which comprise the lulav.

"It's lovely to see so many turning out for the holiday," he said. "The weather is in keeping, so there is a God. What is it, 80 degrees?"

The booths were the big draw for the crowd, giving a commercial feel to a holiday that usually has no economic resonance to the Jewish public. Of the festival's 75 booths, however, less than half had Jewish content.

Dana Harrison, publicist for Terry Pimsleur & Co., which presented the event, anticipates the festival will build momentum each year and attract more Jewish artists. "What the magic is to get more Jewish artists, we don't know at this point," he said.

Turnout for the event was strong at approximately 8,000 people, said Harrison.

That pleased Gary Cohn, executive director of the congregation. Cohn, who strolled the grounds with a fuzzy puppy, greeting friends and newcomers, said the festival "promotes the multicultural community we live in in a positive way."

Oakland resident Jody Seltzer, who works at Emanu-El, agreed. She enjoyed the Jewish vendors and the music, and hoped to join the band — whose members she knew — to sing a song later.

"We don't usually see Judaism in the streets," she said. "Having an openly Jewish cultural event is very positive; it makes us feel good about being Jewish. I know a lot of people here — I expect to get a lot of hugs."