Wearing his rainbow tie-dyed "Grateful Yid" T-shirt, Chabad Rabbi Yosef Langer kicked up his heels to Jimmy Gamliel's rendition of "Moshiach." His tzitzit twirled as he danced.
"Theodor Herzl" worked the crowd in a tophat, while "Moshe Dayan" navigated the fairgrounds in his army attire and eyepatch. And "King David" and "Batsheva," aka festival co-chairs Barry and Debby Cohn, welcomed an estimated 10,000 guests to their kingdom Sunday at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens.
Even the weather felt like Jerusalem. So when Israeli-born singer-guitarist David Broza took the stage and promised to "transport" the crowd to the City of Gold, it wasn't hard to go there.
"Shalom and welcome to Jerusalem in the Gardens," said the Cohns, greeting the largest gathering of the Bay Area Jewish community in years.
The free five-hour celebration in honor of Jerusalem 3000 and Israel Independence Day was organized by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Community Federation.
It was the day of the Davids — King David, "David Ben-Gurion," one of the many costumed visitors from history, and headliner Broza, introduced as the King David of Israeli rock.
Armed with a single acoustic guitar, Broza fit the bill. He rocked and rolled his way through a greatest-Israeli-hits set, sending a crowd of kids near the stage into a frenzied dance.
Israel Consul General Nimrod Barkan, a co-sponsor of the festival, greeted the group earlier in a suit and tie, thanking the Cohns and Jerusalem 3000 chair William Lowenberg for their efforts in making the celebrations such a success. Leaving the podium, Barkan joked, "The only thing I want to do now is take off my tie and join you all."
As singer Ahoova Morgenstern began performing a range of Yemenite, Hebrew and Ladino numbers, participants strolled through King David's capital. Created by Diane Tobin and daughter Sarah Weinberg, the set included the eight gates of the Old City, modern-day Jerusalem landmarks, white-tented booths and a "camel."
Standing nearby "Ben Yehuda Street," where the smell of falafels, Pasqua coffee and other goodies filled the air, Lori Campbell of Mill Valley, said, "I just came from the Haight Street Fair where I didn't recognize anyone. Then I got here and I know everyone!"
While Campbell used the day to catch up with old friends, she said her kids "spent most of their time creating a Web site." Computer buffs of all ages seemed oblivious to the sounds of Morgenstern and other performers such as Los Angeles-based Israeli musician Gamliel and local singers Joel and Lori Abramson. Internet surfers were too busy at the high-tech New Gate, sending messages to Israel.
Run by Brad Lakritz, technology coordinator for the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education, and other volunteers, the center offered a bank of 10 computers and assistance where users created 35 Web pages, or sites, and loaded them onto the Internet's World Wide Web.
Self-described computer addict Mark Cohen admitted it was the technology center that drew him to the festival.
"This is the first Israel Independence Day celebration I've been to since 1948," said Cohen, now in his 50s. Back then, he was living in Detroit, where "the whole city" came out for the celebration.
"In many ways this computer center is a living symbol of the dream we all had when Israel was founded not so long ago…that it would one day grow to become a modern and viable country."
Sisters Nivah and Michal Kaplan-Nadel, ages 5 and 3, may not have known much about computers, but there was one thing the two couldn't stop talking about: the pictures they had taken with the camel.
Wearing matching Jerusalem 3000 T-shirts "our grandma brought back from Israel," Nivah and Michal said they couldn't wait to show their photos to their respective classmates at the Oakland Hebrew Day School and Congregation Beth Jacob's Gan Mah Tov preschool, also in Oakland.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the garden's expansive lawn, the juggling, magic and unicycling act of "Grinn and Barrett" drew the attention of a large group. Grinn, who has opened for such performers as Willie Nelson, said "I'm performing here today because these are my people."
His partner Barrett, who is not Jewish, said her uncle was a prominent member of the Danish resistance during World War II. "There was a book written about him because of the part he played smuggling Jews to Sweden."
Headline performer and Israeli pop legend Broza stole the stage with his soulful journeys into gospel, poetry, flamenco and rock. The platinum-selling artist, who sings in Hebrew and English and is often billed as an "Israeli Springsteen," generated a huge round of applause from the moment he started jamming.
"Shalom San Francisco," said Broza. "It's good to be back here on this great day, in this great place, with this great weather. Now I'm going to transport you to other places, far, far away."
In between the action on center stage, festival participants joined in Israeli dancing and interactive art projects. Some got their faces painted or created necklaces with their names in Hebrew. Some wandered by booths filled with the works of local artists and information from a bevy of Jewish organizations. Still others awaited the results of raffles they had entered.
Israeli-born San Franciscan Judith El Hasid, owner of Miracle Travel & Tours, kept busy answering people's questions about visiting Israel.
"The first time someone goes to Israel, they always return talking about this instant connection with Jerusalem. That's something you just can't put a price on," she said.
From the moment she walked through Jaffa Gate, longtime festival participant Lucie Ramsey, an area director for the American Jewish Committee, was convinced that Yerba Buena Gardens had become a "Jerusalem in the Gardens."
"This festival was the best I've been to in the past 20 years," said Ramsey, noting she especially loved all the costumes and music. "My overall sense was that it really had a lot of class."
In addition to the S.F.-based JCF and JCRC, "Jerusalem in the Gardens" was co-sponsored by 35 agencies, including the Consulate General of Israel, the city of San Francisco, the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in Celebration of 100 Years of Jewish Journalism.