Federation renames Israel Center, announces new festival to replace Israel in the Gardens

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has made announcements regarding changes to its Israel Center and the communitywide celebration formerly known as Israel in the Gardens.

The Israel Center is now the Office of Israel and Global Engagement, in effect as of Jan. 1.

Israel in the Gardens 2013, held at Yerba Buena Gardens in S.F. photo/dan pine

“This evolution will better align the federation with its mission to support Jewish life globally, care for the vulnerable, and advance democracy and pluralism in Israel,” according to a letter signed by Jim Offel and Tom Kasten, the federation’s interim CEO and board chair, respectively.

The Israel Center was founded 19 years ago to strengthen ties between Bay Area Jews and Israel, and over that time has promoted Israel advocacy as well as cultural and educational programming about Israel in the Bay Area. The new OIG is designed to build on that legacy and also support work the federation is doing in other parts of the world, including work with Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

The federation also announced that it will hold a community celebration called Israel in Our Hearts on May 3. The Sunday festival, scheduled 10 days after Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), will include music, food, education on Israel and more. It is slated to run from noon to 3 p.m. at a local venue to be determined.

photo/jcf-nora smith

The federation’s previous annual Israel celebration, Israel in the Gardens, an all-day affair that traced its roots back to the early ’90s, was discontinued last year and replaced by a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza. The 90-minute weekday event drew approximately 750 people, a fraction of the crowds of 15,000 that had been showing up to previous Israel in the Gardens events in Yerba Buena Gardens.

“When Israel in the Gardens began almost 20 years ago, there were few local or regional public celebrations of Israel,” Offel noted. “The good news is that, over time, many organizations, most notably our JCCs and many of our synagogues, have since launched local celebrations of Israel. This has been reflected in a steady decline in attendance of Israel in the Gardens, and our decision to evolve the event into Israel in Our Hearts reflects an effort to complement and support those regional events rather than competing with them.”

In addition to offering entertainment and activities, Israel in Our Hearts also will seek to inform the public about work the federation is supporting in Israel to “strengthen pluralism, democracy and social and economic equality,” according to Offel.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.