Jerusalem in the Gardens: learning, food, merriment

Something old, something new is more than a plan for a June bride's attire.

It's part of the grand plan for another June celebration — Jerusalem in the Gardens, the free, community Israel Independence Day festival, which is designed to be unlike any festival before.

The event, which will take place from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 9 at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens, will include a profusion of elements that will make it a new experience, said Debbie and Barry Cohn, chairs of the festival.

Where else, they ask, can someone design a Web page or ceramic tzedakah box, hear the world-famous Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, find entertainment for their kids, eat well, shmooze with old friends, and maybe even get a suntan — all in one place?

The Cohns, both San Francisco natives with fond memories of Israel Independence Day community celebrations dating back to their own childhood experiences, favor the something old-something new approach.

"We both think of this day as a warm, friendly community event with plenty to do for grandparents and toddlers and everyone in between. We want to be sure that people come away with a feeling the whole family enjoyed the day. This is 1996 — so we added some exciting new dynamics," said Debbie Cohn.

One new ingredient will be a number of interactive opportunities for adults. "We're giving adults a chance to play this year," she added. "They'll exercise their artistic talents and take home Jewish ritual items that they've created."

Interactive art projects will include making Shabbat, havdallah and Chanukah candles with Shendl's Candles; painting bisqueware mezzuzah covers and tzedakah boxes — which will be fired and mailed to the participant — with Ceramic Judaica; and creating Judaic sculpture with Yehudit Steinberg.

Computer nerds and nudniks alike can take part in another first, the technology center. They can even send a special message to Israel on their own Web page.

Brad Lakritz, technology maven from the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, and a cadre of volunteers, will oversee a bank of 10 computers and assist participants in building a Web page. It will be loaded onto the Internet at the BJE during the following week and be accessible to anyone who is online.

Lakritz encourages people to come with messages, photos or other art that they'd like to include in their Web page.

In addition, local agencies involved in Jerusalem will have representatives on hand to show what they do.

For example, Shaare Zedek, the Jerusalem-based hospital, will set up a hospital room where "doctors" in scrubs will administer blood-pressure tests. American Friends of Hebrew University will give quizzes and diplomas in their "classroom." The Consulate General of Israel will offer information on issues of the day in its "Knesset" and participants will have a chance to cast a vote.

Activities for children, Israeli dancing and singing and live entertainment round out the program, and families can picnic on the lawn and enjoy the refreshments. In addition, more than 30 local agencies and organizations will provide information about Jewish services and activities.

Finally, families may kick off the day with the Jewish National Fund's Walk for Water.

Fairgoers are invited to get into the Jerusalem 3000 theme by dressing as a character from Jerusalem's history and participating in the daylong Jerusalem treasure hunt. Anyone correctly completing the treasure hunt or dressed in costume will be eligible for a prize.

The goal is for everyone to have a sense of being in Jerusalem — without having to get on a plane.

Suzan Berns