Coming to Lafayette: Israel in the Gardens lite

Like many fans of Israel in the Gardens, Amy Wittenberg felt disappointed when the annual celebration of all things Israel, held in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens for the past nine years, was canceled for 2014.

Youth parade flag-wavers at an Israeli celebration last year photo/dan pine

So she and her colleagues at Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette decided to stage their own community celebration of Israel, albeit on a smaller scale.

Get ready for Israel@CCJDS, a free outdoor festival taking place June 1 at the school. Like its big brother on hiatus, this mini-version of Israel in the Gardens will feature a stage with live Israeli music, an arts fair, Israeli food, face-painting and other kids’ activities, and a sea of blue-and-white flags — although attendance certainly isn’t expected to hit the levels it did at Israel in the Gardens, about 15,000 at each of the past two years.

Wittenberg, who serves as admissions director at CCJDS, said the idea for the event emerged after the school’s student rock band expressed disappointment at not being able to play Israel in the Gardens this year.

“Every year it was a great venue for our band,” she said. “When they found out they lost the [gig] we came up with an event here. And as long as we had them, we thought ‘Let’s get [Israeli performers] Tzofim Caravan.’ They said yes, so with two good acts, we created a nice event.”

Wittenberg has an inside advantage in planning Israel@CCJDS. Ten years ago she served as Israel in the Gardens coordinator, learning first-hand how to stage a community celebration of Israel.

The Contra Costa Jewish Day School’s middle school rock band will perform at Israel@CCJDS on June 1. photo/ccjds

Kids’ activities from a bouncy house to arts and crafts to Israeli-style scout games set up by the youth group Shevot Egoz will be part of the upcoming festivities.

And with Contra Costa Jewish Day School parents serving as volunteer staffers for the event, and both the school rock band and choir performing, Wittenberg hopes the event will serve as a memorable introduction to the independent K-8 school, which is adjacent to Temple Isaiah.

“Our hope is that people who never visited the school will have an opportunity to see what a beautiful campus we have and what a warm community we are,” she said. “We’re closer to Oakland and Berkeley than people think. This will give families a sense of how easy it is to reach us.”

A native of Seattle, Wittenberg lived in Israel for 10 years, attending Hebrew University and working in the hotel industry. She settled in the Bay Area and has worked at CCJDS for nine years. Her two children attend the 13-year-old school.

Though she knows her event is no substitute for the 800-pound Jewish gorilla at Yerba Buena Gardens, she hopes her event will put smiles on the faces of attendees.

“[Israel in the Gardens] is a wonderful event to bring the community together,” she says. “I miss it a lot and hope it’ll come back. I don’t intend to make [our event] anything near that.”

Israel@CCJDS, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 1 at Contra Costa Jewish Day School, 955 Risa Road, Lafayette. Free admission. Food and art for sale. or (925) 284-8288.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at