JCC gears up for Festival of Jewish Life


Bigger. Better. Bolder.

That’s the concept behind the second annual Festival of Jewish Life, set for March 18-25. The eight-day event will celebrate numerous aspects of Jewish life, among them music, movies, the arts and spirituality. The festival opens at 2 p.m. March 18 with a concert by the Maccabeats, an a cappella singing group, and wraps up with a three-day Israeli art show featuring more than 1,500 works from the Safrai Gallery in Jerusalem.

“This year will be bigger, with much more going on and much more community involvement,” said Jane Tzinberg Rubin, one of four chairs for the event and treasurer and trustee of Jewish Light. “This festival is modeled after similar festivals in other major cities, and we are most excited about the breadth of programs. We think we have something for everyone.”

Most of the events are free, and many will take place at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Tzinberg-Rubin’s co-chairs are Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Congregation Neve Shalom, Kalanit Chappell and Judi Scissors. Open to the public, the 2012 Festival of Jewish Life is co-sponsored by the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, Central Agency of Jewish Education and the JCC.

Tzinberg Rubin said another highlight is the Festival of Israeli Art, which will take place March 22, 23 and 25 in the JCC Performing Arts Center. Original oil paintings, watercolors, lithographs and etchings by 100 Israeli artists will be for sale, ranging in price from $80 to $8,000.

“Not everyone can go to Israel, so we thought we would bring alittle bit of Israel here,” said Zelda Sparks, who is coordinating the event. “What better way than through art from the Safrai Gallery?” Free docent-led tours of the exhibition are available. “On this 45-minute tour, you can walk through with a docent and hear about the artists and their work.” Also, a reception and wine tasting will be held at 7 p.m. March 22 at the art show. (To reserve a spot on a tour or at the wine tasting, contact Sparks at [email protected] or call 314-442-3169.)

In addition to the Maccabeats concert, a highlight of the festival will be a free presentation by native St. Louisan and Middle East expert David Makovsky at the quarterly “Can We Talk?” discussion series at 7 p.m. Monday at the JCC’s Performing Arts Center. Makovsky is a Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute. “Can We Talk?” is a collaboration among the St. Louis Jewish Light, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the JCC.

“We know the three keynote events—the Israeli art show, David Makovsky and the Maccabeats—will draw large crowds, but we have worked hard to make the entire festival attractive to a wide demographic,” said Tzinberg Rubin, who also serves on the national JCC Association Board. Staff from the three primary sponsoring organizations and a committee of about a dozen began work on the festival late last summer. “We started with a lot of brainstorming,” she said, laughing.

That brainstorming led to a lively calendar of events, including several lectures (one on Jewish artifacts and one on “Charlie Chaplin and Hasidic Thought”), two mezuzah-making workshops, a Passover cooking class, three movies (“God in the Box,” “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter” and “Freedom Writers”), a look at the local Jewish art scene, a klezmer concert that includes a history lesson on the musical genre, five brown-bag discussions led by local rabbis, a Torah yoga class, and a matzah-making class for families.

Three field trips are planned:

“Plants of the Bible: A Special Tour at the Missouri Botanical Garden,” from 10:30 a.m. to noon on March 21

“Green Synagogues: A Tour of the New Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Shul,” at 1:30 p.m. on March 21

“Jewish Art—A Tour of the St. Louis Art Museum,” from 1 to 2:30 p.m. March 22.

“This year the festival takes advantage of local Jewish educators, rabbis and experts,” said Rabbi Brad Horwitz, director of the JCC’s Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life. “We are highlighting local talent in many of the sessions and classes, plus, we like that we were able to bookend the festival with national and international cultural events.”

Horwitz said the planners expect “hundreds, if not thousands” of people to attend. He added that much of the cost of the festival has been covered by grants from sponsoring organizations, which include Bais Abraham Congregation, Chabad of Greater St. Louis, Elderlink, the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, J Associates, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Messing Scholar-in-Residence Fund, Nishmah, Nusach Hari Bnai Zion, the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library, Shaare Emeth Congregation, the Jewish Light, St. Louis Kollel and Traditional Congregation.

“We’re all really excited about this year’s festival,” Horwitz added. “This is a great opportunity for all kinds of people to learn and celebrate, to enjoy Jewish culture and heritage, to help strengthen Jewish identity—and to have fun.”