Israel fair at JCC of S.F. pitches travel to students and adults

Yaffa Weinstein and son Matthew of Belmont came to Sunday's Israel Program Fair to look into a kibbutz program for him. They found the one-stop shopping concept at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco to their liking.

"It's been very helpful," the elder Weinstein said. "It is well set up, informative and the people are knowledgeable."

Originally from Israel and now living in San Francisco, Nurit Baruch stopped in to "look for different things" for her high-school age son, who plans to spend next summer in Israel. She found the fair format "helpful and informative. There's a lot of variety, and it's very beautiful, very presentable."

Dozens of tables representing Israel-related organizations, each decorated with a blue, white and gold balloon bouquet and filled with pamphlets and materials, filled the gymnasium of the JCC Sunday afternoon. The third annual Israel Program Fair was the place to find out everything you wanted to know about Israel programs.

"It runs the spectrum," said Yossi Offenberg, Jewish program manager at the JCC, "from educational to volunteer, to touring and training opportunities, and from Reform and liberal to Orthodox, and everything in between."

Dozens of people of all ages — an estimated 180 — perused the displays, picked up copies of brochures, watched the video presentations offered at most of the tables, and asked questions.

Thirty-five organizations were represented. Sponsors of the event, the San Francisco Israel Center and the Israel Center of the East Bay, had decided "to bring as many organizations, along with their representatives, all together in one place" as possible, said Meirav Yaron of the San Francisco Israel Center. In addition to all the program possibilities, the fair also supplied information on financial aid, "and there are all sorts of great deals now, because of Birthright Israel, especially for young people age 16 to 26," Yaron said.

Birthright Israel, a new program sponsored by Jewish philanthropists, is offering free trips to Israel in 2000 to all diaspora Jews in that age group.

Interested in pursuing Israel trips, visitors from all over the Bay Area were milling about. Sara Jacobsen and her mother had come from Corte Madera. "I'm a sophomore in high school, and I'm going to Israel this summer," Jacobsen said, "but I'm thinking of exploring what program options there are. I like this fair. There's lots of information."

David Gilbert of San Francisco came to pick up applications for various programs. "Israel plays an important role in our lives," he said, "and more people need to experience Israel."

And Danny Rosen of Sunnyvale was "checking out programs and opportunities" for an anticipated move to Israel.

Offenberg was pleased at the turnout. The event is now being held biannually, in the fall and spring. "It has been so successful, that there are new Israel Fairs being copied in other cities across the United States, like New York, Cleveland and Baltimore," he said.

The fair seemed to be a positive experience for the host and sponsors as well as the guests and representatives.

"We're delighted to host this," said Nate Levine, director of the JCC. "The community center is a place for Jews to come and gather, so any program having to do with Israel — this is the place for it."

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County." She is a wife and mother of two grown sons and grandmother of three.