Israel in the Gardens

At this year’s Israel in the Gardens, a Jewish percussionist from Uganda will lead a parade of Israel supporters around the Gardens. All the way around. “Walk a Mile for Israel,” which circumnavigates Yerba Buena Gardens, is but one part of the entertainment on tap at the Bay Area’s annual love-in for the Jewish state.

Donny Inbar, the director of culture and events for the Israel Center, is helping to assemble the entertainment lineup, and he promises a day of nonstop fun. “It’s the most incredible thing that the entire Jewish community unites once a year, celebrating Israel,” he says. “It’s our Cinco de Mayo.”
In addition to headliner/Israeli superstar Rita, several other bands, choruses and folk dance ensembles will take the main stage. Throw in the Israeli film festival, a theater festival and annual fashion show, and Israel in the Gardens is the entertainment bargain of the year.
Remember, it’s free.

On the main stage, the Mah Tovu Band will perform, warming up the crowd before Rita. Congregation Beth Am Rabbi Josh Zweiback, Steve Brodsky and Ken Chasen round out the line-up and, although their music has a distinctly Jewish accent, these guys can rock.

Mah Tovu may be homegrown, but Tzofim is straight out of Israel. Founded in 1919, Tzofim was the first Zionist youth movement in Israel and the first egalitarian scouting movement in the world, with boys and girls participating on an equal basis. Today there are more than 300,000 Tzofim graduates, and a few of them will be in San Francisco to sing at Israel in the Gardens.

The fashion show has become one of the most popular events. Mix top Israeli designers with local Jewish “celebrity” models, and you’ve got a runaway runway on your hands. This year, it’s all about the kids. Children and teens are the focus for this year’s fashions, with designers Zuzikim and Fox putting together exciting collections for the smarter, younger set.

If Israeli folk dancing is your thing, you can’t get much better than Moshany, a South Bay dance teacher with a huge following. How huge? “Moshany has a group of 100 to 200 dancers in Sunnyvale,” says Inbar, many of whom will perform at the event.

Also high-stepping will be a group of Russian folk dancers — samovars not included.
As for the Israel in the Gardens film festival, this year organizers scored a coup: their first Oscar winner. “West Bank Story,” the comic musical that won this year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, will run at the Metreon next door. Other films include a string of animated shorts made by students from Israel’s famed Bezalel Academy.

If flesh-and-blood actors are more to your liking, Israel in the Gardens offers a theater festival this year. “Missing Kissinger,” a one-man show based on Etgar Keret’s short stories, won first prize at Israel’s Teatroneto Festival and the Peak of the Fringe prize at the Edinburgh Festival. It comes to the Gardens starring Uri Hochman, a member of the Habima Israeli National Theater.

Also set for the stage, Moran Barbivay-Maruani starring in “My Grandmother,” which explores Jewish-Moroccan family life.

And for those wishing to entertain themselves, there’s the aforementioned “Walk a Mile for Israel,” a fundraising event, emphasizing “green” Israel whose proceeds go to an environmental project in northern Israel. Families and students representing Jewish day schools, congregational schools, JCC’s and synagogues are expected to fall in. Participants can sign up at

The walk starts at 10 a.m. at Yerba Buena Gardens’ Howard Street entrance. Gershom Sizomu, from Uganda’s Abayudaya Jewish community, will lead the procession all around the perimeter of the Gardens. Sizomu is the rabbi in his community and is being sponsored by Be’chol Lashon, a Bay Area organization that supports Jewish diversity, to attend the University of Judaism, where he is a fourth-year rabbinic student.

And if all that isn’t enough, there’s always the default activity that makes Israel in the Gardens such a distinctive, heady experience: Jewish people-watching.


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