The ninth biennial Valley Jewish Festival at Cal State Northridge was an opportunity to celebrate Jewish culture. But it also served as a way for the community to acknowledge the violence in Israel and the energy crisis in California.
Many of the estimated 30,000 people at the event, organized by the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, expressed deep worry over the turmoil in the Middle East in light of the suicide bombing that killed 20 young Israelis outside a Tel Aviv club Friday night.
"I have family in Tel Aviv," said Dan Baruch of Woodland Hills.
"It's difficult to hear about the violence when I'm 10,000 miles away. I have no impact. You don't want to see anyone killed, Palestinian or Israeli."
With the rise in violence, some Jewish parents were grappling over whether to allow their children to travel to Israel this summer.
Cheri Dekofsky, a festival co-chair, said her son Micah Dekofsky was planning to leave June 18 to visit a town several miles outside Gaza.
"It's very frightening," she said. "We're afraid to send him."
Zvi A. Vapni, deputy counsel general of Israel, spoke from the stage about the need for Jewish Americans to continue their support of Israel. He said it was difficult to celebrate because he was still mourning the deaths in Tel Aviv.
Environmental protection was also a theme of the festival.
Members of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life said that Judaism implores respect for the Earth and animals.
"This is a moral issue," said Lee Wallah, a member of both the coalition and the Los Angeles Interfaith Environmental Council. "We have to take care of God's creatures for our children."
Vendors promoted solar energy and biodegradable products and showed how to make home remedies such as lip balm.
The mood of the event was festive and cheerful for children, who were entertained by singers and clowns, and people bought food ranging from knishes to kung pao chicken.
For many, the festival was also a way to explore their heritage. Calabasas High School senior Barri Worth, who is active in a student exchange program between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, said she has strengthened her Jewish identity.
"My ties to the Jewish community are important to me," said Worth, 18. "It has taught me a lot of values in my life."