In 1984, the volunteer directors of the Irvine Harvest Festival decided on what days to hold their communitywide fair. Much too late they discovered that the festival coincided with Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays.
The directors did not reschedule the event, but they said that they had learned their lesson.
This year, the festival avoided Yom Kippur. Instead, it was inadvertently scheduled for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year during which Jews are enjoined from participating in such secular festivities.
The Orange County regional office of the Anti-Defamation League fired a volley of letters to 50 civic leaders. "Needless to say, the residents of Irvine were incensed that this callous and uncompromising attitude should be taken against the Jewish community," the letters stated. "The effect of this action by the board of directors precludes any Jewish involvement or participation by the entire Jewish community, not just those who live in Irvine."
State Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress) took it a bit further. "Blatant prejudice and bigotry" is what his letter called it.
"Oh, my goodness. . . . Oh, my gosh," Mayor Dave Baker said as a reporter read Carpenter's letter to him. Baker, a former festival president, said the festival board members are "just trying to do something good for the community and they are not interested in offending anyone."
The board huddled later in the week and came out with a compromise--the festival's three-day run would start a day earlier and run from Oct. 2 to 5 so that Jews observing the holiday could still attend.
That would be all right, said Michael Lapin, president of the Orange County chapter of the American Jewish Committee. "I believe that the scheduling of the 1986 Irvine Harvest Festival, while unfortunate and insensitive, was not an act of anti-Semitism on the part of the Harvest Festival Committee or its individual members," he said.