Whats a good Jewish festival without a little mishugas

At the "Israel at 50" outdoor celebration, it "misted" — quite heavily — all day. Then there was the time the sun shined brightly from early morning to sunset in unseasonable 90-degree weather, with ne'er a hint of our famous San Francisco fog

Where were the umbrella or hat concessionaires when we needed them?

Though no one seems to be quite sure of the exact number, for more than 35 years the Bay Area Jewish community has been throwing a big party in honor of Israel's anniversary. As with any major event — and this one has historically drawn between 2,000 to 15,000 celebrants — there's always mishugas.

Starting with the weather. In deference to San Francisco's peripatetic weather patterns, festival organizers have juggled the date and venue. Stern Grove in May, Golden Gate Park in June, Masonic Auditorium in April — they've tried them all.

In 2001, when the festival was scheduled for late April to coincide with the official date of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, an inside location was selected. The day dawned, gorgeous and cloudless, and in the 70s — perfect for outside activities.

Nevertheless, a big crowd showed up and all made their way inside. Lots of kids were ready to play in the real sand and fake Tel Aviv waves, created by some very clever lighting on the wall of the auditorium. Only one small problem: The lights were burning the young, sensitive toddlers. The lights were lowered, dimming the effect, but not the enthusiasm.

In 1998, when Israel celebrated 50 years of statehood, peace seemed to be just around the corner. Funds were raised to produce a bigger and better-than-ever event to be held at Golden Gate Park. The day included several major acts, a climbing wall and live camel rides.

"It didn't rain," insisted Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which organizes the event. The intrepid crowd stood its ground in the "heavy mist," cheering wildly through the punk rocker Perry Farrell and finally, the headliner, Israeli rock star Rami Kleinstein.

Stage right, throughout the Kleinstein gig, Kahn had embarked on a major community relations dialogue with a friendly police sergeant. It seems that the Farrell appearance had run a bit long, and the event sound permit was expiring as Kleinstein took the stage.

"He wanted to pull the plug on the speakers," Kahn recalled. "I stationed myself next to the sergeant and engaged him in thoroughly irrelevant conversation until the performance and the encores were finished."

If there's a festival, there must be food. This one is no exception, but there is one special problem: Food must be kosher or vegetarian. One year a new kosher vendor was discovered, promising a wide array of meat products, a rarity at the festival. As the set-up got underway, the vendor pulled his truck into the middle of the field and refused to move it. After some serious urging by organizers, assisted by the security folk, he agreed to move. And he did — right out of the field and the festival.

Food came in handy once again, but one time it was up against the old nemesis, the weather. Along with fun, games and entertainment, the festival is a showcase for Jewish community organizations. Each organization has handouts. Then the winds came. Melissa Stern, then of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's Israel Center, had a brainstorm. She purchased a couple bags of large baking potatoes and distributed them as paperweights. Another disaster diverted, and a new tradition anointed. Potatoes are now part of the basic festival supply kit.

As in several years past, the festival will be held this year at Yerba Buena Gardens. Its transportation-friendly location, a sunny city environment with the massive Sony Metreon blocking the wind from the west, makes it an excellent locale. But, as Gideon Boaz, who organized the event for the JCF's Israel Center for a couple years, learned, Gardens' officials are strict about their rules. Rabbi Yosef Langer's "mitzvah" motorcycle was absolutely forbidden on the green grass of the garden. Nor, Kahn learned, was Frisbee allowed. "This is not a park, these are gardens," he was told.

Finally, there's the old security concern. Will there be anti-Israel demonstrators? While there have often been a few demonstrators on the periphery of the festival, there has never been a problem. Last year the crowd at Yerba Buena looked up to see a small plane flying a banner stating "End the Occupation." A short time later, another plane, with a much bigger banner, buzzed the festival. This one stated, "Stand With Israel."

That's exactly what celebrants will be doing again this year on Sunday, June 1 — standing with Israel — in rain or sun, and in long lines for meat-free goodies (or not), they'll be there. And there's sure to be more mishugas — because what's a good Jewish event without it?