Jerusalem 3000: City by the Bay to celebrate City of Golds spiritual legacy

She's 3,000 years old but still hasn't lost her touch. Every day, people fall in love with her.

Like others who have felt Jerusalem's sunny hand caress their shoulders, Nimrod Barkan isn't sure what it is about the City of Gold that has cast an enduring spell over residents and visitors. The S.F.-based Israel Consul General of the Pacific Northwest can only guess.

"It's a spiritual center, the lighting emanating from the white stone buildings, the sense of serenity that descends on the city on Fridays," he says. "There is a real sense of communion with our spiritual heritage."

Between May 5 and June 9, the Bay Area's organized Jewish community will be doing its best to recreate Jerusalem's faraway glow here at home.

That month will be devoted to celebrating Jerusalem 3000, a series of cultural and educational programs that is also being marked in Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world. The event celebrates 3000 years since King David declared Jerusalem the Jewish people's capital.

These days, television images of Jerusalem often don't focus on her beauty but on anguished faces, mangled bodies and bloodied streets. Barkan doesn't want local Jews to forget those images. He just wants Jerusalem 3000 to be an opportunity to show solidarity with Israelis.

"It will be an outstanding show of support and connectedness between these two worlds, these far apart Jewish communities," Barkan says. "This will enable everyone to show that he is part of Israel at such a time."

Event chair William J. Lowenberg agrees, saying the month of concerts, debates, festivals and exhibits is a chance to "recognize that through wars, politics and hardships, Jerusalem has prospered and survived as our spiritual and emotional center."

The events, sponsored by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and coordinated by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Consulate General of Israel and other Jewish agencies will start on an emotional note.

Israeli pop singer Yehudit Ravitz will kick off Jerusalem 3000 events locally with a show at San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium Sunday, May 5.

JCRC's executive director, Rabbi Doug Kahn, describes the singer as "a rousing, tremendously spirited performer. Audiences will have a set of emotions that links them to Jerusalem in a powerful way, through the music."

Less rocking but no less spirited will be the Israeli Lyric Trio and Israel Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, set to perform at the Jerusalem 3000 reception and concert Monday, May 13 at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Admission to that performance costs $100 and features a buffet dinner.

For those who prefer more casual attire (and a decidedly lower ticket price), this year's Israel Independence Day at Yerba Buena Gardens will be part of Jerusalem 3000. It will be free, family-oriented and no easy task for organizers, who are planning to recreate Israel's busy Ben-Yehuda Street pedestrian mall and to build a replica of the gates of the Old City.

The Jewish National Fund's Walk For Water will precede the festival, leaving and returning from Yerba Buena Gardens. That event is sponsored by the Jewish Bulletin, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the City of San Francisco.

Walks, musical extravaganzas and festivals shouldn't obscure the serious issues in Jerusalem's future, say program organizers.

While Jerusalem 3000 is itself not a political event, it is inevitably caught up in the intensifying debate over the city's fate. As determined by the Oslo Accords, Jerusalem's status will be addressed in the final phases of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Had the talks proceeded without interruption, it was likely those issues would be on the table within a year, says Natan Golan, director of the Jerusalem office of the JCF. The recent spate of terrorist attacks have delayed the start of the final-status talks, however. They had been scheduled to start this spring.

Golan has lived in Jerusalem for more than 30 years, and claims that despite the "posturing and positioning" of the various groups who lay claim to the city, Jerusalemites generally coexist without incident.

"Orthodox Jews cut through the Muslim section of the Old City to say their morning prayers at the Western Wall, and Israeli Arabs visit the Museum for Islamic Arts and Culture in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood of Rehavia," Golan says.

Jerusalem as a political and religious entity will be discussed as part of the Bay Area's festivities: Rabbis and professors will meet Sunday, May 19 for a symposium, "Jerusalem at 3000: Sanctity and Strife for Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy City," at McLaren Auditorium, University of San Francisco.

But program coordinators aren't only interested in the august opinions of the literati. They are also soliciting the insights of Bay Area young people through art and writing contests. Submissions on the topic of Jerusalem, diversity, hope and the Jewish people must be made by May 1 to Fred Nathan at the BJE.

In the end, the Bay Area celebration won't just attempt to bring Jerusalem to the Bay, it will also bring locals to the Holy Land itself. JCF's Jerusalem mission to Israel will take place May 12 to 22, and will double as a fund-raiser for the agency.