Groups hope to spread the word at Tents of Community

To Life will be welcoming at least 10 new organizations into the fold in this year’s “Tents of Community.”

Amy Grossman, the street festival director, said more than 50 groups will have community-outreach tents at the daylong event.

New participants include the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox youth movement; Jewish Milestones in Berkeley; Adopt A Special Kid, an adoption agency in Oakland; and the Zerem Network. Several congregations and Kabbalah organizations have also signed on for the first time.

Congregations hope to reach unaffiliated Jews and those new to the area, said Grossman, who’s running the festival for the first time.

“It’s a marketing opportunity for a lot of these organizations because they know it’s one of the largest Jewish gatherings in the area,” she said.

The tents bring people together for shmoozing and mingling, she said. Tables set up alongside the organizations’ displays lining California Avenue allow for a “café kind of atmosphere.”

“The thing I’ve heard most about this is, everyone just comes out this day to see everyone. It’s a great way to connect to the community and see people that you may not see all the time.”

Nann Phoenixx-Dawn, the family coordinator for Adopt A Special Kid, said she decided to arrange for her agency to have a presence at the fair because in years past, when she’s attended To Life and Israel in the Gardens, the S.F. Jewish community event, she hasn’t seen any adoption agencies.

Adopt A Special Kid has placed children from the foster care system in homes temporarily and permanently for some 35 years.

“We didn’t see any agency there that could tell us how we could build our family,” said Phoenixx-Dawn, a Jew who has adopted two foster children.

The Jewish community is uniquely equipped to care for foster children, she said, because of its vast resources for parents and families.

“Our community is a very child-friendly community,” she said. “I think that there’s a lot of Jewish traditions that go into what it means to bring children into our life. So I’m hoping that by being under the tents of community, the community will start to see this as an option for building family and utilize agencies like ours as a resource.”

A representative from the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation will be at the fair as well. Mitch Braff, the S.F.-based organization’s director, said attendees can expect to receive stickers, posters and samples of JPEF’s curriculum.

“We really try to find a way to appeal to as broad an audience as possible,” Braff said. “We’re very excited to do something on the Peninsula and to broaden our constituency.”

Braff said he hopes synagogue educators, especially, take a look at the curriculum guides and DVDs and consider using them in their classrooms to teach about Jewish partisans during the Holocaust.

Deb Fink, who works in education and referrals for Jewish Milestones, said she looks forward to expanding her organization’s clientele beyond the East Bay, and hopes the street fair helps them to do so.

She compared Jewish Milestones, founded in 2004, to a matchmaker. Jewish Milestones helps Jews — affiliated and unaffiliated — plan their lifecycle events. They refer clients to ritual facilitators, a list that includes rabbis, cantors, educators, mohels and lay leaders. They also help clients coordinate their events within their synagogues, if possible, or help them plan events on their own terms.

By being at the fair, Fink hopes more people learn about who they are and what they offer to help plan baby namings, bar- and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other lifecycle events.

The ultimate goal, however, no matter where the event is held, is to provide “an experience of ritual that is truly moving to a client that that will spark even more interest in Jewish ritual and involvement in the community,” she said.

The National Conference of Synagogue Youth may be under the umbrella of the Orthodox Union, but Shmuel Braun, director of the South Bay region, said Jewish teens from any background would feel comfortable at their events. This is the message he hopes to convey at the street fair.

“[NCSY] is not aimed specifically at any type of Jew. It does have the Orthodox stigma because it’s of the OU, but ultimately the point is not to attract a specific type of kid. It’s to attract everyone.”

While some Jewish organizations and high school youth groups don’t uphold strict laws of kashrut, NCSY “goes the distance,” so that observant teens can attend.

Though the details of NCSY’s tent are still in the works, Braun said he would love to have a cotton candy machine and bright yellow pins to hand out with phrases like, “Get spiritual” or “Get connected.”

Whether or not the machine is approved, Braun, 27, said the idea is make religion fun and appealing to adolescents. Too frequently teens are stretched thin in their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Judaism and spirituality become one more thing they have to squeeze into their schedules, Braun said.

“The word ‘religion’ turns people off for the most part,” he said. “If religion could somehow be a little bit attractive and enticing, hopefully they’ll start connecting at a young age.”

NCSY holds Bay Area regional events, shabbatons (Shabbat weekend programs) and monthly events in the South Bay that attract anywhere between six and 20 kids, Braun said. South Bay events are held at synagogues, day schools and rental spaces. Recently, NCSY went to an Oakland Athletics baseball game.

And if the cotton candy doesn’t work, Braun can count on his wife, Haviva, to get teens interested. She’s a resource for female campers and is “an amazing cook.” Plus, Braun said, “She’s also cooler than I am.”