Safety, security a top priority at Israel festival

Security is always a prime consideration in planning "Israel in the Gardens," the celebration held each spring in San Francisco.

People needn't be afraid to come to the annual festive event, assured organizers of the 55th anniversary celebration, which takes place Sunday, June 1.

"It is important to remember that there has never been a serious incident that disrupted the community's enjoyment of this event in all the years that it has been held," said Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "We are looking forward to a great turnout and an outstanding day."

After downtown San Francisco was swamped with anti-war protesters earlier this spring, many individuals questioned the wisdom of holding the celebration at Yerba Buena Gardens — a 5.5 acre park that is sandwiched between the Sony Metreon and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at Fourth and Mission streets.

But the venue is perfect for the family festival, which is sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and its Israel Center, and co-sponsored by the JCRC and the Consulate General of Israel.

JCRC security consultant Allan Lavigne said the organization is "working closely with Yerba Buena Gardens management and the San Francisco Police Department on security matters."

Added Kahn, "Last year, we went through an amazingly detailed drill, so we're well prepared for any contingencies that might arise this year. A substantial number of public safety officers and other security personnel will be on hand to ensure a fun and incident-free day for the community."

Kahn said additional behind-the-scenes work would further assure visitors' safety, but he declined to elaborate.

"The police understand that 'Israel in the Gardens' is a family event and that the day is designed to celebrate Israel in a non-political way. Nothing is more important to us, or to them, than ensuring that the thousands of children and their families who will attend will be able to shop, learn, eat and shmooze.

"I encourage people throughout the course of the day to thank the police officers and other security providers because I know that such gestures are greatly appreciated."