Israel in the Gardens canceled this year

Israel in the Gardens, the popular open-air Jewish community celebration held every spring in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, will take a hiatus this year while the Jewish Community Federation decides its future.

The announcement went out March 7 in the Israel Center’s weekly newsletter. The logistics of the festival are handled by the Israel Center, a program of the S.F.-based federation.

The statement read, in part, “After 15 years during which the Federation and its Israel Center have produced the annual Israel in the Gardens open-air festival, which celebrates the local Jewish (and Israeli) community and its strong connection to Israel, we are taking a year off in 2014 — a shmita year — to rethink and re-imagine this significant community event.”

A federation spokesperson emphasized that the decision in no way reflects a diminishment of the federation’s support for Israel or the festival, which is expected to resurface next year.

Outgoing federation CEO Jennifer Gorovitz wrote in a statement, “In the meantime, the Federation’s commitment to Israel and to engagement with Israel in the Bay Area are stronger than ever, and we will show our support through a community-wide Yom HaAtzmaut celebration [on May 6 in San Francisco], expansion of our important local work around Israel engagement and education, and continued support of meaningful programs in Israel.”

As Gorovitz indicated, instead of Israel in the Gardens, traditionally held the first Sunday in June, this year the federation plans to organize a celebration, possibly on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, May 6, which is a Tuesday. It will be held at midday in a public plaza in San Francisco; the location has not yet been finalized and the date could change.

The federation has been putting on Israel in the Gardens in its present form since 1999. Some 8,000 people attended that year. The festival grew steadily over the years, was held off-site at least once — AT&T Park in 2005 — and in recent years drew crowds of about 15,000 people to enjoy live Israeli and Jewish music, food, arts and crafts, kids’ areas and vendors. Most local Jewish agencies set up booths to publicize their activities and services.

“Israel is and always will be part of the soul of our Bay Area Jewish community and of this Federation,” wrote Donny Inbar, associate director of the Israel Center, in last week’s newsletter announcing the change. — j. staff