Conversations blossom at Tents of Community

“Tents of Community” is beginning to live up to its name.

From the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center to Yavneh Day School, dozens of communal groups throughout the Bay Area will have informational booths, sometimes with special activities, for To Life! visitors to peruse.

For years groups have been handing out fliers and informational sheets and representatives have been eager to talk with inquisitive visitors.

“Last year it was really special,” says Evelyn Merritt of Los Altos, volunteer coordinator of Tents of Community. “We had so many people that we had to set up tables in the middle [of the aisles] where people could sit.”

With visitors stopping to sit and chat at umbrella tables, amid the stream of people browsing booths, “it was like a small town,” Merritt says, “almost like a shtetl. It really was like a community.”

People who hadn’t seen each other in years were “bumping into each other, sitting and talking.” The setup was so successful that it will be duplicated this year, umbrella tables and all.

More than 50 organizations participated in 2005 — “a banner year,” says Merritt. While most of the nonprofit groups are Jewish, there are also those that “support Jewish causes,” Merritt adds, such as Support Network for Battered Women. All are screened before acceptance, she notes.

Day schools and adult-education resources, synagogues, advocacy groups for Israel, senior residences, arts organizations and many others will participate.

This is Merritt’s second year in charge. She was recruited by her friend Dina Jacobson, who coordinates artists and food vendors at To Life! A hands-on volunteer, Merritt is an active member of Palo Alto Congregation Etz Chayim — “a wonderful synagogue,” she says.