To Life! festival draws throngs to Palo Alto

Ayliana Stabinsky celebrated her ninth birthday by biting into a glatt kosher hot dog.

It was delicious. But Ayliana also learned something — the meaning of glatt. It means the animal and its lungs are “really, really healthy,” she explained, holding her tasty lunch in Palo Alto at the To Life! street festival.

 

Crowds mill about at the To Life! festival. photos/joyce goldschmid

Meanwhile, her father, Seth Stabinsky, was getting a treat of his own: a run-in with Maddy Chaleff, whom he knew from his childhood in Connecticut. The two were in United Synagogue Youth together “back when Moses walked the earth,” Stabinsky joked. “We saw the original burning bush.”

 

Other festivalgoers mastered the definition of a knish, twirled to Sephardic tunes and gasped as the executive chef of the Kitchen Table poured an entire bottle of Syrah into a couple pounds of seared beef.

With three stages offering selections from klezmer to Dixieland, and artists selling Judaica, as well as a wide range of jewelry, paintings and handcrafted clothing, To Life! returned to California Avenue on Oct. 10 after a one-year hiatus.

The 10th fall festival, presented by the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center and sponsored by myriad Jewish organizations, drew families and singles, browsers from the general community and entertainers of many stripes.

Wearing what looked like pajamas, Udi Gotlieb and Shy Ziev, Israelis in a JCC theater group, performed a mock wrestling encounter, while their “trainer,” Ofra Daniel, shpritzed them periodically and egged them on. Everybody shvitzed, but nobody got hurt.

Later, the group changed gears, parading down the street in spooky white costumes and shouting cryptic phrases in no recognizable tongue. In fact, they were gibberish, Daniel admitted, explaining the symbolic significance of the shtick, which had something to do with following the leader versus changing the rules in midstream.

 

Sally Binswanger, Nina Leiman, Alex Leiman and Lucy Binswanger (from left) admire artist Joyita Ghose’s handpainted scarves.

The weather was hot, the entertainment cool and the vendors, food booths and community organizations displayed offerings for diverse palates and a diverse community. In keeping with the theme of inclusivity, the Be’chol Lashon booth, adjacent to the children’s area, put out the word that 20 percent of the Jews in the United States are of non-Ashkenazi (or Eastern European) ethnic backgrounds.

 

Alan Sataloff, CEO of Palo Alto’s year-old Oshman Family JCC, was happy to bring the Jewish community presence back to the streets. Last year, opening festivities for the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life replaced the annual street fair.

“We could have done this on [the Taube Koret] campus,” Sataloff said, “but we made a conscious decision not to.” The aim was to ensure that “the Jewish community doesn’t become insular, with everything happening within our walls. The way to do that was to reach out beyond our walls, showing the community what we do. It’s an important lesson for us as an organization, [to show] that we’re here for the community at large.”

Marsha Anderson, an East Bay artist who creates handpainted Judaica plates, clocks and jewelry, was happy to be back on California Avenue. “It’s my favorite show in the world,” she said, adding that she was “so bummed last year,” when the event wasn’t held.

This year, “people are buying,” she said, noting that she was seeing a lot of repeat customers.

Several other artists said passersby were looking, taking cards but not necessarily purchasing. But that wasn’t the case for Joyita Ghose, whose handpainted silk scarves and apparel were attracting a fair share of buyers.

 

Olga Mamaenko, Irina Zhukova, Anna Razgulova and Sonia Krugloff wear traditional Russian costumes.

Four young shoppers — Lucy Binswanger, 12; her sister Sally, 9; along with Nina Leiman, 11; and Alex Leiman, 9 — were intrigued by the patterns and colors. While Lucy was interested in buying a scarf, Alex admitted that the food at the fair was the main attraction for him.

 

Farther down the aisle of artists’ booths, writer, singer and artist Pearl Sofaer was selling copies of her book “From Baghdad to Bombay.”

She also shared her mother’s recipe for getting rid of hiccups (not included in her autobiographical book): Take a glass of water, put a knife in it, with the handle up and the blade in the water, and drink the contents of the glass. “My grandchild thought I was crazy. He walked around the kitchen laughing,” Sofaer said.

But, she added, it worked.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent is a writer and editor living in Palo Alto. She can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.