Israel in the Gardens Festival

Israel in the Gardens was unlike any other themed festival (e.g., Greek, Himalayan). Whereas most other festivals are for selling things (clothing, art, nick-nacks, etc.), the sole purpose of the Israeli festival seemed to be to build community. There were many social groups. Lots of Jewish schools were also represented, including both secondary classes (part-time, after regular school) and primary classes (instead of public school). Very many (all bay area?) congregations were represented as well, as were community/social groups.

Getting to this festival was much less exciting than getting to yesterday's. I was early to the Caltrain station. It was on time. Once in San Francisco, I hiked to Yerba Buena Gardens, the location of the festival. Simple. Straightforward.

Well, almost. I'd never been to Yerba Buena Gardens before, so I didn't quite know where to go. I wandered around, spotting a carousel, a playground (with the type of bouncy soft sidewalk that don't hurt to much if you fall), a museum for kids, and more.

Once I found the festival, I explored. On the way in, I passed a witty guy selling Mahjong tiles. How do I know he was witty? While I stopped to look, I heard someone ask him what was the connection between Mahjong, a Chinese game, and Jews. He answered, "only take-out on Sundays."

Yerba Buena seems like a nice place. I especially liked the wide, pretty waterfall, which was sadly hard to see due to all the booths and stages set up nearby. The panoramic videos associated with these images capture the ambiance of the location.

I can't believe I was at the festival for an hour before I realized why it was a Sunday-only festival, not a whole-weekend one.

As for arts and culture, I saw many booths selling jewelry, some selling books, only a few selling artwork, two selling kippot, and one (sub-par) booth selling glass. There were many fewer booths for arts, culture, and literature than at any other festival. One book booth mainly specialized in books about marriage, including one titled, "Why Marry Jewish?" (Conversely, I later found a social group's booth: "Intermarried? Find Your Welcome Here.") Another booth had Hebrew music and magazines including some, which I was amused to observe, that seemed to be the Israeli equivalent of Cosmo.

Livne Fine Art Studio was the one painter I spotted and liked. She does colorful abstract pieces. From browsing her web site, I'm amazed how many pieces she produces.

One store sold female Israeli military t-shirts, thus making the wearer look attractive and bad-ass simultaneously.

As I previously mentioned, retailers are only a small part of the fair. The larger part were organizations. Beside the aforementioned synagogues and schools, Jewish retirement and assisted living communities advertised; Hebrew universities (both in the States and in Israeli) promoted themselves; health care providers who generally only deal with Jews (!) advertised; Israel sold bonds; Republican Jews and Democrat Jews recruited; a Jewish group advocated vegetarianism; and the Anti-Defamation League promoted its mission. There were cultural groups as well. For instance, Ethiopian Jewry had a table. Later, I passed the table of a group that does research on Jewish issues. One of its big signs declared that Judaism is more diverse than most think, citing that 20% of Jews are "Latino, Asian, African-American, Sephardic, Mizrahi, or mixed." I wasn't shocked. If you think about the converse, you'll realize how many Jews are alike.

Don't believe me about the variety of organizations represented? Here's a list.

The selection included mostly Jewish or Eastern European foods such as Kosher hot dogs, knishes, falafeles, schnitzels, piroshkis, burekes, challah, and macaroons. Falafel from one stand, The Flying Falafel, looked so good (and much better than that at any other falafel stands) I had to have it. I wasn't the only one -- the stand's line was far longer than any other's! Although the stand had many employees, each of whom picked toppings out of bins to fill pitas, it was clear they could've used even more.

The Flying Falafel oddly appears to have two distinct web sites (1,2).

Sadly, in the falafel I got, the balls were cold and dry. And they were out of tahini. The bread itself was good, with a hint of hummus. The bottom, with more hummus, was a bit better yet. But as a whole the sandwich still disappointing compared to how good it looked.

The stand also sold chocolate frisbees: warmed pita with a chocolate spread and optional fruit.

The Metreon is part of the Yerba Buena complex. Although I'd been to the Metreon previously to watch movies, I'd never explored the building. I took some sparse moments throughout the day to stick my head in and look around. It seems like a decent small mall. Some stores surprised me, like the store entirely devoted to the miniature game Warhammer and the store devoted to the playstation. (Okay, the latter was actually part of the Sony store, but it looked like that at first.) There's a small bookstore -actually a series of shelves and stands in the lobby- with a quirky selection that's fun to browse. I also spotted some reasonable looking restaurants. Also, near the Metreon is Samovar, a cute tea lounge with an essay in the window about living life slowly.

One reason I went to this festival was because it had a mini film festival that was showing West Bank Story. (It's a mini film festival in two sense: it lasts one afternoon, and it only plays shorts.) West Bank Story is a musical short about love in the Middle East that I've wanted to see ever since I heard it won an Academy Award. However, when I finally wandered into the movie theater, I had to sit through some other movies first.

One was a sweet, silent, computer animated film about a boy and a tree. The boy imagines the tree is a dragon.

Another movie was about a boy and a dog. It had such high tension, as if the dog would be killed accidentally at any second, I didn't like it. I walked.

When I returned, it was to the middle of a movie about a man enrolling in the army. The DVD soon failed, refusing to play, and the projectioner decided, due to popular demand, to play West Bank Story next. Yay!

Thus, I finally got to see it. Here's my reaction.

The End
At the end of the festival, I knew from having learned the Caltrain schedule the previous day that if I went straight to the station I'd be sitting there for nearly an hour for the train. Hence, I hung around a little until the after-party began. Although the crowd looked cool and the venue -the terrace on the top floor of the Metreon- looked awesome, I decided I didn't have the energy go stag. (I was alone and didn't have anyone I could call on such short notice that would want to come to this party.) Then I remembered that there's really no great reason to force myself to do things I don't want to do just because I think I should enjoy them (like big parties) (this is also B's advice). I began my journey home.

Overall, the festival was quite a pleasant experience. I enjoyed wandering around on such a pretty day -it was warmer and clearer than the prior day- and being in the grassy outdoors while being dwarfed by skyscrapers.

P.S. While at the festival I picked up a schedule for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. At the end of the June they were having outdoor screenings of the Muppets and other Henson work, including popular films and episodes as well as rarities. Sadly, I didn't managed to go to any of these events but I thought this was cool enough that I ought to mention it anyway. (I usually don't mention reasonably interesting events that I don't attend.)

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