It's not just about the food.
Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley held its silver anniversary Jewish Food Festival at the synagogue over the weekend, giving hundreds of visitors a chance to sample the justifiably celebrated latkes, brisket sandwiches, kosher hot dogs, cheese blintzes, kugel and other dishes in a decidedly ethnic food court under the summer sun.
But the festival also offers klezmer music, a model Jewish wedding, Israeli folk dancing, storytelling and religious instruction for those who want to know more about Judaism as a living faith.
"The week before Food Fest we have hundreds of volunteers here the entire time," said Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum. "The energy level is phenomenal."
Congregation Beth Israel includes 270 families, he said, which means upwards of 700 are involved in some way or other in the synagogue's annual showcase event.
"Every sabbath we always have visitors, guests, people who come in to check us out," he said.
Greenbaum gives tours and a lecture on Jewish rituals and beliefs during the festival, and other organizations operate booths to dispense information about Israel and the nonprofit Hadassah organization, which sponsors hospitals, youth activities and health care, and advocates for Jewish causes worldwide.
Beth Israel's Hadassah chapter has had a booth at the Food Festival for 19 of its 25 years, said chapter board president Evelyn Sloan.
The organization gives a high priority to its work for peace and bridge-building in the Middle East, she said, supporting cutting-edge medical research at Israeli hospitals and providing medical care to all comers.
A newcomer to the Food Festival this year was Ilana Shatz, executive director of Fair Trade Judaica of El Cerrito, a nonprofit business that retails handcrafts from countries that subscribe to fair trade principles: no sweatshops or child labor, fair pricing and wages, environmentally sustainable practices, equal opportunity, fair trade and financial and technical assistance to producers, among others.
The crafts aren't only made by Jews, she said, though some products — menorahs, matzo holders, kippas, mezzuzahs — are decidedly Jewish.
"This year we have products from Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Ecuador and El Salvador," Shatz said.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org