Thousands attend To Life! fair

Sunday the hot dogs went kraut-less.

At least by 3:30 p.m., the franks went semi-naked because "To Life! A Jewish Cultural Faire" in Palo Alto drew more people than even the most seasoned food vendors were prepared to feed.

One vendor said he prepares for at least a couple of thousand at street fairs, but this crowd began lining up as soon as the fair began, at 10 a.m. He and his counterparts were caught completely off guard.

While Sgt. Carol Baldwin of the Palo Alto Police Department said its estimate of the head count was anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 throughout the day, New Bridges organizers put the tally at around 7,000 minimum.

"I'm thrilled. It's what we hoped it would be," said Joanne Donsky, chair of New Bridges, a Peninsula outreach organization and the primary sponsor of the event. "It's really giving a broader sense of the Jewish community we all want to feel."

Indeed, the commercial stretch of California Avenue was made into Street Fair Central, with one parking lot off to the side turned into "Tents of Community," where organizations and synagogues set up booths.

All ages were represented, from the stroller set to the caned, as well as religious affiliation, from the totally secular to the velvet kippah-ed Orthodox, with multiple Russian speakers among the throng. And there were enough Israelis chattering on cell phones to make one fairgoer think she had taken a wrong turn and had accidentally ended up on Nachlat Binyamin in Tel Aviv.

While Palo Altans may have been the majority, people came from San Jose up through Marin County.

Judaica artists — some local, some not — took up much of the space. The artists reported doing mixed business, with some saying they did incredibly well and others not. One artist said she made no sales at all, but felt it was worth being there, because at least her supply of business cards had considerably dwindled, meaning she could hope for future orders.

Julie Egger of the Marin-based Red Hot Chachkas said the band sold a lot of CDs. "I think it's a good turnout," she said. "We got a really good response."

Fairgoers themselves were enthusiastic.

"This is fantastic to have all these Jewish things in one place," said Ed Kraus of Santa Clara, who was wearing his infant daughter on his chest. "It's good to come out and show our vibrant Jewish community."

Beth and Joel Rubinstein attended the fair with their children. The family moved to Palo Alto a month ago from a Philadelphia suburb.

They had already joined a synagogue, and said the fair was an introduction to the Jewish community here. While they came from a very Jewish area, Beth said the fair showed that "there was more here than I expected."

By 5 p.m., the lines for the snow cone and cotton candy booths proved the street fair staples were still in high demand. And a crowd gathered at the main stage to listen to Bruce Burger, aka RebbeSoul, belt out "Avinu Malkeinu" on the electric guitar.

Organizers of the fair, which was produced by Terry Pimsleur & Co., said if there was any doubt before as to whether "To Life!" would become an annual event, the success of the day erased it. Next year will only be bigger and better, they promise.

"Now that the nervousness has subsided, I am overjoyed," said Carol Saal, a founder of New Bridges who was credited for having dreamed up the street fair. A longtime Jewish community activist, Saal has lived in the area for 30 years.

"I'm particularly thrilled because the Jewish community has been going through a rough time here in Palo Alto, and something this positive couldn't be happening at a better time."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."