Sonoma Jews hope to express solidarity during Simcha Sunday

In light of current events in Israel, this year's "Simcha Sunday" festival in Sebastopol is especially timely.

The 12th annual event featuring music, kosher food, art and play for Jews of Sonoma County will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the Sebastopol Community Center.

But the free celebration, sponsored by the Jewish Community Agency of Sonoma County and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, will also look toward more serious matters.

"Given the events in the Middle East at this moment," said Beth Goodman, program director for the JCA, "we as a community want to express our solidarity as a people in support of Israel."

Another special feature of this festival is a dedication ceremony marking the Sonoma Jewish community's involvement in restoring the Laguna de Santa Rosa waterway. In cooperation with the city of Sebastopol, the JCA has helped energize efforts to plant trees at the wetlands preserve site.

"It gives people a way to honor, commemorate or remember people," said Goodman. "It's not only fulfilling the responsibility of tikkun olam [healing the world], but also contributing to an important restoration project."

Already close to 75 seedlings have been set in the ground by the Jewish community during a planting day in April.

"Traditionally you buy trees to be planted in Israel," said Goodman. "This way, in essence, you can plant roots in your community."

Rabbi Leah Sudran of Congregation B'nai Israel in Petaluma will lead the dedication ceremony, to include songs and psalms, at the wetland site located next to the community center at 11:30 a.m.

In addition to a day of activities, which includes performances of Mizrachi music by Za'Atar and folk dancing with Lee Newland, there will be a raffle drawing and information booths representing more than 30 Jewish organizations and synagogues in Sonoma County.

This year's event will also include a special exhibit of Israeli art, called "Festival Israel," to accompany the display and sale of Judaica by local artists. Festival Israel will feature prints of works by Marc Chagall, as well as Israeli artists Agam, Patricia and Amram Ebgi.

A lithograph of an original Zamy Steynovitz piece, "The Peace Treaty," will be on display. It is signed by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, President Jimmy Carter, the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

Za'Atar will play Mizrachi music from North Africa and Arab lands from 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Folk dancing led by Newland will take place from 1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. And the klezmer ensemble Limonim, a local band, will play from 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

A children's activity center sponsored by local religious schools along with Hillel of Sonoma County, will feature a play structure, art projects and games.

Edibles run the gamut from kosher hot dogs to kugel, knishes to corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. Mideast-style falafel and pita and various nosherei will also be available.

Goodman expects a crowd of 2,000 people to come and go during the day.

Describing the celebration's wide appeal, "no matter what your affiliation or how you live Jewishly," Goodman called Simcha Sunday "an all-inclusive event."

"This is one event where you really see how connected the Sonoma Jewish community is," said Goodman. "The distance itself [between cities and towns] tends to separate people. Simcha Sunday is one of our favorite ways to bring them together."