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Two decades on, Boulder Jewish Festival going strong

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FOR the past 20 years, people from in and around Boulder have enjoyed an annual one-day celebration of Jewish culture, featuring live entertainment, fine art and Judaica, ethnic food, community organizations and activities for all ages on the second Sunday in June.

This year’s Boulder Jewish Festival takes place on Sunday, June 8, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., on the Boulder County Courthouse Lawn and the Pearl Street Mall.

Twenty years ago, Susan Kramer and the late Cathy Adler had come to Boulder from different cities, met while working on an Israel Independence Day event and decided that the one thing Boulder really needed was a Jewish festival — something to celebrate all the interesting, awesome, amazing, fun and wonderful aspects of being Jewish in Boulder.

The first festival was held on Israeli Independence Day 1995 on the Courthouse Lawn on the Pearl Street Mall, in the rain.

The enthusiastic crowd let the duo know they had created something worth repeating.

In the first year, people at the event were heard saying they had no idea there were so many Jews in Boulder. Every since then, the number of vendors, artists, non-profits and attendees has grown.

There were 15,000 participants last year.

Local artist Dvora Kanegis designed a logo for the festival’s fifth anniversary that is now a staple on fridges, walls and T-shirts. That same time, the current executive director, Cheryl Fellows, took over.

By 2003, the festival overflowed two blocks from the Courthouse Lawn; by its 15th anniversary the Boulder Jewish Festival was the “largest single-day independent event” in Boulder and one of the longest-running Jewish festivals in the country.

The festival provides a chance for people who have just moved here and people who have been here for years to discover more of what’s available.

According to Fellows, “In a community like Boulder, with a high level of people moving in and out, whether it’s job-related or school-related, it’s a great way to see the depth and variety of the community.  At a time when so few of our institutions have facilities, this is the one time that all the organizations have a ‘place.’”

There are always wonderful vendors of food and multiple performers throughout the day.

The ever-expanding number of fine art and Judaica purveyors has made the Boulder Jewish Festival “the largest independent art show on the [Pearl Street] Mall.” However, according to Fellows, “it’s really the local non-profits that are the heart of the event.”

There will be nine synagogues and other Jewish communities agencies at this year’s festival, and they will be joined by five education, youth-oriented, or camp booths and a bevy of organizations: ADL, Boulder JCC, Chevra Kadisha, Boulder Hadassah, Hazon, JEWISHcolorado, JFS, JNF, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Colorado, Judaism Your Way, Keshet, MazelTot, Menorah, the IJN, Rocky Mountain Hai and Stand By Israel.

Fellows notes that the festival provides “a time when there are no walls, a more open place for people to engage and reach out. For example, it’s a chance to meet the local rabbis without making an appointment.”

EACH year, the Boulder Jewish Festival is planned and produced by a team of 12 volunteers who spend countless hours planning the event, beginning 18 months in advance. They publish an annual event program that includes a listing of everyone who has ever exhibited — past or present.

On the day of the event, the small core of volunteers is joined by between 20 and 30 volunteers who handle setup, help with recycling, sell T-shirts, reunite lost kids with their parents, and generally keep things running smoothly.

According to Fellows, volunteers are augmented by people who make up each organization’s booth staff, bringing the number of volunteers into the hundreds.

Volunteers still are needed throughout the day for two-hour shifts, especially during set up (9-11 .m.) and clean up at the end of the day.

The festival’s main stage is a constant source of engagement and amusement. Hal Aqua is the front-man for the klezmer band “The Lost Tribe,” and his alter ego Cowboy Hersh is billed as “the silliest singing cowboy in the west.”

Cowboy Hersh will open the festival, followed by Sherefe, Mikeu Pauker, the Boulder Klezmer Consort, Offlines with Yinon Muallem and Or Zimrah (otherwise known as the Har HaShem Band).

Food this year will be available from kosher and non-kosher vendors.

KOSHER offerings will be available from Bonai Shalom’s sisterhood and home-style food from the Lubavitch Kosher Kitchen.

Maui Wowi is presenting its Hawaiian coffees and smoothies, and Matzola, a maple-nut matzah granola that started out as one family’s Passover treat, is now available for everyone.

As for fine art and Judaica, this year’s attendees will be treated to  works of art from over a dozen vendors — some old friends and some newcomers.

When asked why on earth she accepts this enormous unpaid job every year, Fellows said:

“For me, it’s all about making a connection. Every year we hear stories about how people connect at the event. People connect with culture and with being Jewish in a way that isn’t as accessible during the year.

“Whether it’s the food or the people or the music or the art, people know this is a wonderful, open community event and they come back year after year.”

She added that her friend the late Froma Fallik, who served as the director of Bonai Shalom’s Hebrew school and librarian at HaSifra (the Boulder JCC library), once gazed with pleasure at all the gathered Jews and remarked, “More people come to the festival than come to High Holidays.”

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 

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