Thousands Expected to Fete Unity and Jewish Tradition

Nina Smith knows just where she will stand Sunday when she's among the thousands of people who will join hands on the playing field of Rancho Park in West Los Angeles to form a human Star of David.

"I want to be at a spot where the top triangle and the lower triangle meet to form an X" the 27-year-old Santa Monica resident said. "It symbolizes two separate entities becoming one. That's what we're doing here; symbolically uniting the Los Angeles Jewish community with the nation of Israel."

The six-pointed Star of David is symbolic of Jews and Judaism. Sunday, the human star will also be a highlight of the 15th annual L.A. Jewish Festival, a daylong celebration of Israel's independence day and all things Jewish.

Last year, more than 35,000 people attended the festival and organizers are hoping for as many as 50,000 this year.

"It's the biggest party the Los Angeles Jewish community throws each year," said Jeffrey H. Zimerman, community events director for the Jewish Community Centers Assn. and coordinator of the largely volunteer festival effort.

The association is one of three festival co-sponsors. The others are the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, the umbrella agency for about 500 local Jewish communal, educational and religious organizations, and the Israeli Consulate General's office in Los Angeles.

About 4,000 people participated in formation of the star last year, when involvement was limited to those who had contributed to a fund-raising effort. This year, said Smith, the festival's entertainment chairwoman, participation is open to everyone, and thousands more are expected to clasp hands when the star is formed about 12:45 p.m.

"We're shooting for the world's largest human Jewish star ever," she said. "It will be as big as a football field."

To mark Israel's 40 years as a modern nation (the anniversary date was April 21), a 15-foot-high, 3-tiered mock birthday cake, 20 feet in diameter, will be raised in the center of the star.

Festival admission is free, and in addition to the star and birthday cake, other attractions are also planned. They include booths selling Israeli and kosher foods--including kosher Chinese, Italian and Mexican foods--local and Israeli entertainers performing on two stages, children's rides and games, the raffling off of a trip to Israel, Israeli folk dancing, more than 130 organizational booths designed to familiarize Jews and others with the organized Jewish community, Jewish ritual and decorative arts and crafts displays, and social activities including dancing, designed for teen-agers and single adults.

Entertainers to Appear

Among those entertainers scheduled to appear are actor Stephen Macht, KRTH radio personality Steve Morris, folk singer Rabbi Shlomo Carleback and Hedva Amrani, one of Israel's most popular female vocalists.

A feature this year is a display of Israeli products. Most of them will be consumer-oriented; books, records, furniture, glassware, jewelry, toys and puzzles, for example.

A more unusual display will feature chalks in myriad colors and all courtesy of Kibbutz Kfar Glickson, a settlement near Haifa in the north of Israel. The kibbutz, importer Laurence Rubin said, supplies most of the chalk being used by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

As if to complement the chalk, a virtually maintenance-free blackboard from Israel, currently being tested by the school district, will also be on display, Rubin said.

Peres May Attend

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is scheduled to participate (depending upon last-minute developments in Israel), and event organizers hope at least one U.S. presidential candidate will make an appearance. Also expected are local elected leaders, such as Mayor Tom Bradley and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

Given the nature of the times, the diversity of sometimes strong opinions within the Jewish community, and the scheduled appearances by the presidential candidates and Peres, festival security will be tight, Zimerman said. As an added safeguard, the informational booths of Jewish groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum will be widely separated around the periphery of the park.

"This is a party event, a show of unity. I expect Jews will leave their differences at home," Zimerman said.

In its early years, the festival was primarily a walk-a-thon known alternatively as the Walk for Life, the Solidarity Walk and, finally, the Walk Festival.

Fund Raising, Good Time

"It was intended as a fund-raiser, a youth department outreach and a way to have a good time," said Michael Harris, federation director of community development and one of two staff members who organized the first walk in 1974.

This is the second year that the festival has been without a walk--however, a trek of another sort will be back on the program next year when the festival and the third annual Salute to Israel Parade will be held on the same day.

Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish community in the nation, nearly 600,000 people, largely concentrated on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley. But three-quarters of them have little or no connection to any community organization, according to Jewish Federation Council statistics.

Ironically, said Wayne Feinstein, the federation's executive director, it is these so-called unaffiliated Jews who account for the bulk of those who attend the festival.

Chance to Connect

"They appear to view this as an opportunity to connect," he said.

While it's true the festival is put on by Jews primarily for Jews, Zimerman emphasized that the festival is open to anyone.

"It's a community cultural event that happens to be Jewish," he said.

The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking in Rancho Park is limited; however, shuttle buses will be available to nearby Century City parking lots that will be identified by festival volunteers holding signs. The entrance to Rancho Park is at Pico Boulevard and Motor Avenue, across from the entrance to 20th Century Fox.

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