SBC locale a likely hit for celebration

When the San Francisco Giants escaped Candlestick Park back in 2000, they gleefully left behind the gale force winds that could transform a hot dog wrapper into a deadly weapon or induce an Eskimo to kvetch about the cold.

Past Israel Independence Day celebrations suffered from a problem the Giants didn’t have to worry about in their days at the ‘Stick: Too many people for too small a space.

Yet both the Giants and Israel Day celebrators had the same solution to their problems — SBC Park. The cozy, visually stunning San Francisco field combines all the best elements of retro and modern design, and has already hosted a World Series and a handful of magical baseball moments.

And, come Sunday, June 6, it will host “Israel in the Ballpark,” the Bay Area’s first Major League celebration of Israel Independence Day. The event takes place from noon to 6 p.m.

The Tokyo subway-like crowd conditions of past festivals at Yerba Buena Gardens can now be relegated to the same dustbin of the memory as the arctic conditions and abusive drunks of Candlestick Park. An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 festivalgoers are expected to flood through SBC Park’s turnstiles this year, and the ball yard will hold them just fine, thank you.

“We couldn’t create a better facility to host a celebration of this kind,” said Caron Tabb, “Israel in the Ballpark” event director for the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

In anticipation of larger crowds, this year there will be even more food vendors, arts and crafts exhibitions and sales, as well as activities for the whole family.

Admission is $5, with children under 12 free.

The same excellent BART and MUNI facilities and plentiful parking that make SBC Park so easy to get to also help when traveling to “Israel in the Ballpark,” and Caltrain is restarting its weekend service just in time for the event.

On the field, there’s room enough for a main stage with musical acts as well as an educational (but still fun!) workshop put on by the Israel Antiquities Authority — no, Giants manager Felipe Alou is not an exhibit.

The workshop will, however, provide a glimpse of life in ancient Israel. For those more interested in current-day San Francisco, the park’s many slides and “mini-SBC Park” kids’ baseball area may be more your speed. Perhaps most critical of all, you will be able to buy the famed SBC Park garlic fries, rest assured, as well as typical ballpark fare and such kosher treats as Hebrew National hot dogs. There will also be a full array of kosher fare, including Mediterranean-style offerings such as bourekas and falafel, at the scoreboard plaza. And on the promenade level, oenophiles can sample premium Israeli wines. But don’t pack a picnic. Outside food and large backpacks are not permitted.

As a fully enclosed and self-contained venue, SBC Park is much easier for security personnel to patrol than the open-air, hustling-and-bustling Yerba Buena Gardens. But making the move to a Major League venue was no easy task, and required, to put it mildly, a group effort.

For the first time, all three Bay Area Jewish community federations — the Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose — are participating in the event. Additionally, other Jewish community organizations have stepped forward to help sponsor it. They include the Consulate General of Israel; AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby; Hagesher Haisraeli; the Jewish Community Relations Council; S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services; the Koret Foundation;;; and j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

This larger Jewish community participation has sparked new corporate and private sponsorship, as well. Among the private sector sponsors are the San Francisco Giants, SBC Park and Pacific Guarantee Mortgage. In addition, some individuals have stepped forward with significant donations.

Israel in the Ballpark

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.