Israel in the Ballpark a family affair for Israeli, S.F. co-chairs

For the past eight years, the Bay Area has been a second home for the Barkats, who come from Jerusalem but have been living in Palo Alto.

Taking an active role in the Jewish community, Alona Barkat joined the board of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation as well as Elem, which helps youth in distress in Israel.

“I did a fund-raiser, and everything went from there,” she said. “I got involved in federation, got involved in AIPAC, the whole enchilada.”

However, in July, the Barkats and their three sons — Guy, Tomer and Jonathan — will return to Israel and their extended families.

Co-chairing “Israel in the Ballpark” was their way to say thank you and turn their sights toward new horizons. It may also help get local Israelis more involved in the local Jewish community.

“Being in America, you mostly hear about the Israel challenges,” said Barkat. “But this event sends a very positive message to everyone, a message that shows how beautiful a country Israel is and how much it has to offer. We are very excited to be a part of that.”

For Eve Bernstein, who is on the JCF board, co-chairing the event is also a family affair. She and her husband, Alex Gersznowicz, will be assisted by daughters Rachel and Julie, son Jason and Israeli-born son-in-law Shai Shaul. All of her children, who went to Brandeis Hillel Day School, have been in Israel, where her oldest daughter spent her junior year, and all three will be going there this summer.

Brainstorming over family dinners in the fall gave them a wonderful project to work on together. Importantly, the younger generation brought a new perspective to the event, one that was inclusive of all age groups attending the festival.

“It was a wonderful way to have our family talk about something that matters that they’re involved with, something that has nothing to do with everyday life,” said Gersznowicz, a computer-industry consultant who serves on the Jewish Community Relations Council board. “It was so worthwhile for us.”

For both the Barkats and the Bernstein-Gersznowicz family, co-chairing “Israel in the Ballpark” on Sunday, June 6, is not only a way to help celebrate Israel’s 56th anniversary, but also a personal way to help take one more step toward strengthening U.S.-Israel relations while bringing the Jewish community together at home.

According to Bernstein, who is also president of Lehrhaus Judaica and former president of Brandeis Hillel, working on the event as a family changed their perspective of who the Jewish community is and where they are found.

“We realized that we needed to bring that new awareness to the event, to help create a model of what the community actually looks like. By approaching this community event from a community perspective, we could ensure that all ages and demographics were represented.”

In past years, said Julie Bernstein, the festival “has traditionally been focused mostly on families with young children. What I saw was an opportunity to broaden the focus of the event to be much more inclusive of people in our age group who have been left out.

“We came up with the idea for the after-party for young adults,” she added. The Israel Center’s Tzavta program and the JCF’s Young Adults Division are helping to bring that vision to fruition.

“We’ve helped change the audience for this festival, and we are excited that we’ve been able to be part of that evolution,” Gersznowicz said.

As Israelis, the Barkats are particularly interested in building ties between their first and second homes.

“Strengthening relationships between American Israeli supporters, Jews and Israelis here in the Bay Area means a great deal to us,” said Alona Barkat. “‘Israel in the Ballpark’ gives all of us a perfect place to bring that relationship closer together.”

Leaving the Bay Area is bittersweet for the Barkats. “We have met such amazing people here,” said Eli Barkat, who is chair of Backweb, a software company in Silicon Valley. “So many people devoting their lives to Israel — through AIPAC, through the federation. As an Israeli I feel very privileged to have met all these people. And now that we are going home, we will be able to really help Israelis understand how much support exists here in the Bay Area and the U.S., and how to build the bridges together.”

“We have made wonderful friends here,” adds his wife. “As a person and as a family we grew so much because of the people we met — and I’ve learned just how much one person can make a difference. I feel very fortunate to be able to take what I’ve learned here and use it to do more for Israel in Israel.”

Israel in the Ballpark