Tribute to the Jewish state plays out at daylong party

It’s a rite of spring for the Bay Area Jewish community: Come June, thousands flock to Israel in the Gardens for a taste of Israeli culture and a large dose of blue-and-white pride.

It’s almost always something of a rock concert, with constant entertainment and a headliner bringing the stage show to a crescendo in the late afternoon. But this year, Yerba Buena Gardens will look a lot more like Woodstock. Organizers of the June 10 event — the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund — have booked not one or two, but three major Israeli bands to perform on the main stage.

Headliners Balkan Beat Box will be joined by Israeli pop star Efrat Gosh (backed by South Bay-based band Peatot), and — direct from Israel — the unique a cappella ensemble Voca People. The performers take the stage beginning at 2 p.m., and the music goes on until 5 p.m.

Live music is always a draw for Israel in the Gardens, and not just the headliners. As in years past, young talents from local Jewish schools (such as Jewish Community High School’s Jew Man Group, and Contra Costa Jewish Day School’s 99 Llamas) will kick things off on the main stage at 11 a.m. And a rousing 12:15 p.m. performance by the Friendship Caravan of Tzofim — the Israeli scouting movement — is guaranteed to get the crowd moving.

But music is only one aspect of this giant Jewish party.

Scores of booths, collectively known as the Tents of Community, will go up, representing a cross-section of the Bay Area’s Jewish world.

Synagogues, day schools, camps, Jewish agencies, nonprofits, Jewish collegiate groups and many others will pitch tents to kibbitz, answer questions and get the word out about the good things they do.

Of course, the community’s unshakable love for the Jewish state is the unifying force at this annual event. Israel will be strongly represented, especially by the soon-to-be-departing consul general of Israel, Akiva Tor, whose four-year term expires this summer. He’ll be there to say his collective farewells.

Yerba Buena Gardens blooms with tents — and thousands of visitors — at Israel in the Gardens in 2010. photo/amanda pazornik

So will a group of Bay Area-based new olim (émigrés to Israel) who will soon start fresh lives in the Jewish state, but not before they wave goodbye from the main stage.

The Israeli-style “shuk” (marketplace) will feature a broad range of jewelry, crafts, Hebrew books and other products designed to stir the Jewish heart.

For the young ones, the S.F.-based nonprofit Be’chol Lashon will once again sponsor the Kid Zone, with arts and crafts, acrobats from the Circus School and an African drumming circle, among other activities.

Teens will have their own corner of the gardens, with activities organized by such community organizations as the Diller Teens, Kehillah Jewish High School,  and the BBYO Central Region West.

Oh, and bring your appetite. The food vendors this year promise to deliver exceptionally succulent treats, from Middle Eastern falafel to Italian ice.

While most of the action takes place in Yerba Buena Gardens, organizers hope folks also will hoof it directly across Mission Street to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for part of the day.

Festivalgoers picnic and enjoy live music.

There, patrons can get two-for-one admission tickets simply by mentioning the secret password (hint: try “Israel in the Gardens”). In concert with the event, the museum will host an Israeli film loop, a drop-in stained-glass crafts workshop for families, and for the linguistically adventurous, an architectural tour of the museum conducted in Hebrew.

As for night owls, there’s always the after-party, to be held at The Cellar on Sutter Street (not far from Union Square).

With activities planned from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Yerba Buena Gardens, the after-party, and even the JCF annual board meeting starting at 9:30 a.m. (nearby at the Metron),  it’s tough to pick out one highlight of the day. Some features are new this year, while others come back year after year.

But Israel in the Gardens wouldn’t be such a huge hit year after year without the thousands of Bay Area Jews who unfailingly turn out in force to show their support for Israel.

Some things change. Facebook went from fun to boring. “House” is in its final season on TV. Mariano Rivera may never pitch again.

But Israel in the Gardens will always be the Bay Area Jewish community’s biggest party — and tribute to the Jewish state.

Israel in the Gardens 11 a.m.-5 p.m. June 10, Yerba Buena Gardens, 750 Howard St., S.F.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.