Jerusalem in a sunny S.F. park

In real estate as in outdoor festivals, it's location, location, location!

And while location isn't everything, it's an important element in creating a successful community festival, said Sandy Leib, coordinator of San Francisco's Jerusalem 3000 activities.

Yerba Buena Gardens seems a near-perfect location for Jerusalem in the Gardens, this year's incarnation of the city's annual Yom Ha'Atzmaut celebration and the final event in the monthlong array of Jerusalem 3000 activities.

The event commemorates the 3,000-year anniversary of King David's naming Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish state.

Yerba Buena Gardens is San Francisco's newest park, located across from the new Museum of Modern Art on Third Street.

On Sunday, June 9, this dramatic park — with its fountain, acres of lawn, multileveled plazas and permanent stage — will be transformed into the city of Jerusalem.

"Visitors will be able to imagine they're in Israel," said designer Diane Tobin, who is overseeing the transformation.

Tobin and her staff are hard at work finishing replicas of notable Jerusalem landmarks, including each of the Old City's gates.

Clever artistry, colorful banners and flags and Hebrew street signs will evoke sites including the Haas Promenade overlook, the Knesset menorah, stone facades and several famous streets.

In a busy "marketplace," artists and community groups will display their wares in white-tented booths. A camel will guard the entrance to the Old City, and special events for children will take place at each of the eight gates.

Across "town," a replica of Ben Yehuda Street — home to contemporary Jerusalem's sidewalk-cafe culture — will sport informal tables and chairs where visitors can kibtz while noshing a falafel, sipping dark coffee or sampling other treats.

This is the second year that the festival will be held at Yerba Buena Gardens. Last year's was a good-spirited community picnic with entertainment, said Melissa Stern, festival coordinator.

"Our goal was to get back to the excitement and the community feeling of the old Stern Grove days," she said. This year, she added, the community will see "an expansive, decorative event with lots of activities for young and old, headline entertainment and more artisans and food."

Leib affirmed Stern Grove's enduring importance to the city's Jewish community. The Sunset-District park was for years virtually synonymous with San Francisco's annual family-friendly Israel Independence Day celebration.

But 10 years ago, after heavy fog or drizzle caused one too many rainouts, festival organizers decided to look elsewhere.

First try was a huge renovated Fort Mason pier, where a record number of Israel-based businesses, Jewish groups and continuous entertainment attracted huge crowds.

But the old ship-building docks lacked Stern Grove's warmth and its haimish feeling.

Two different Golden Gate Park locations beckoned picnickers — who soon enough found themselves soaked to the skin, as the park is in the fog belt, too.

In 1989, glasnost and Soviet Jews' newfound freedom to emigrate to Israel transformed the annual festival into an Operation Exodus rally.

The sun shone on the crowd of 10,000 at the Embarcadero's Justin Herman Plaza to celebrate Israel's 41st birthday and make a political statement.

When the recession and the continuing influx of immigrants resulted in budget cuts for the festival — needy Jews were the first funding priority, after all — the city of San Francisco volunteered Union Square as a festival site. The location was easily accessible, and the festival's live music drew hordes of Sunday shoppers and tourists who got a taste of San Francisco's Jewish community.

But the concrete plaza, even with its grassy perimeter, did not lend itself to picnicking and lounging.

Yerba Buena Gardens combines the best of all those previous locations: grassy parkland, easy access and prodigious sunshine.

Suzan Berns