Stars shine for overflow crowd at Havdallah event

First, she reported close encounters of the third kind. But then again, she wasn't sure.

"We saw some aliens," Ellen Fetherston of Pleasanton said. And then turning to her father, she asked him, "Didn't we?"

Aliens or no aliens, the 4-year-old said she had fun. That was her assessment of "Havdalah Under the Stars," held Saturday evening at the newly opened Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland Hills.

Actually, the evening turned into Havdallah in the rain. But the downpour didn't prevent an estimated 1,500 people from showing up for the event, sponsored by the Center for Jewish Living and Learning of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Whether there were actually three stars visible in the sky for Havdallah to take place was debatable. But luckily, the staff and some 60 volunteers had prepared for this beforehand: Three large silver stars hung in the main rotunda, where the Havdallah service took place.

Because of the overflow crowd, some people stood on the second floor, looking down at the proceedings from above.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown welcomed everyone. And with completion of the service led by Rabbi Richard Winer of Congregation Beth Emek in Livermore and community song-leaders, the Havdallah celebrants took over the center — visiting the planetarium, noshing on goodies provided by Grand Street Bakery, listening to lectures and participating in a whole host of other activities.

One of the most popular options was the "Zimriyah, Children's Song Festival for Peace." Children's choirs from area congregations and day schools and Kids of Klezmer from Castro Valley's Congregation Shir Ami took their turns in front of a continually shifting standing-room-only crowd of proud parents in the theater.

Later, Kids of Klezmer continued to play in the cafe.

For the kids and adventuresome adults, there were interactive exhibits. (This reporter learned she weighs 23.3 pounds on the moon and 354.1 pounds on Jupiter; her weight on Earth will remain undisclosed.)

For others, there was a lecture on astronomy and Judaism by David Cooper, acting spiritual leader of Berkeley's Kehilla Community Synagogue.

In one room, Berkeley's Judah L. Magnes Museum sponsored an exhibit called "Jewish Constellations," in which people could record their oral histories.

And for the teens, there was an "Intergalactic" dance, organized by Tam Crane of Piedmont.

"They wanted to make this cool for teens," Crane explained, joking that she was asked to do it because of her Jewish involvement and because "I'm nerdy enough to enjoy this stuff."

As the '70s disco hit "Funkytown" blared in the background, Crane said she'd be playing DJ to the expected 50 or so teenagers from around the East Bay at this dance, which reportedly differed from their school dances in that there was no breathalizer.

"I hope this will get Jewish teens involved in community…and non-Jews," she added, nodding to the non-Jewish friend she brought.

Diane Wirtschafter of Berkeley, who came with her husband, two children "and a large fetus," said, "It's always fun to be at community events like this." While she said it was great to see people from various parts of the community in one place, "what's more fun is realizing how many I don't know. It's a really big and vibrant community."

Elisheva Hurvich, director of the Kehillah Community Synagogue school, gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the evening.

"I love outer space," she said. "And I love Jews."

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."