In addition to indulging in the traditional Israeli food available for purchase, celebrants could get a taste of the Jewish state by joining in Israeli dance lessons, mini-Hebrew tutorials, and photo ops with Chick Pete and Tahini Talia, the federation falafel mascots.
For kids, attractions included a biblical petting zoo, a carousel and a bounce house. Several children also joined Israeli dance instructor Lynn Berman beneath a large tent to learn a few traditional folk steps, as well as the chicken dance, sung in Hebrew.
Local teens turned out to man the booths for the various youth groups, including Beth Shalom USY, Bnei Akiva, Keystone Mountain Region BBYO and NCSY. Teens participating in programs through the Agency for Jewish Learning represented the Diller Teen Fellows program, and J-Site.
“We hope we’re enhancing what goes on here today,” said Ed Frim, executive director of the AJL, noting additional AJL booths, including one providing free used Jewish books, and another providing free Hebrew tutorials.
Numerous groups had booths set up throughout the plaza, offering hands-on activities, as well as information about their organizations. Partnership 2Gether gave free T-shirts to anyone visiting all five of its stations, aiming to educate participants about Pittsburgh’s Israeli sister communities, Karmiel and the Misgav region.
A few tzedaka projects also were under way, including the Friendship Circle’s sale of challas baked by its young adult group, with the proceeds of the sale going to the Squirrel Hill Community Food Panty.
Meanwhile, inside the nearby Carnegie Music Hall, 15 Israeli artists displayed and sold paintings, sculptures, jewelry and crafts, while federation representatives ran a raffle for two airline tickets to Israel, donated by El Al Airlines.
“We brought in a lot more Israeli vendors this year in honor of our 100th anniversary,” said Sharon Perelman, foundation associate director for the federation. “We are also promoting our upcoming mission to Israel (June 19 to 28). We already have 275 people signed up. It’s the biggest mission we’ve taken.”
Visitors to JFest filled the theater in the Music Hall when 11 local teens took the stage as HaZamir Pittsburgh, the Jewish youth choir lead by Nizan Leibovich. HaZamir was followed by the Spirit of Israel Teen Delegation — 10 teens from the Partnership 2Gether region of Karmiel-Misgav — who entertained with songs, dances and short skits. The Israeli jazz ensemble, Seeds of Sun, also performed.
Without question, one of the highlights of the evening was the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s crowd-pleasing performance of “Step Touch.” The internationally recognized dance company made its special appearance at JFest in anticipation of its upcoming trip to Israel this summer, when they will perform at the Karmiel Dance Festival. “Step Touch,” choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, is set to a dozen songs of the doo-wop era. The fast-paced, contemporary ballet, received a standing ovation from the JFest audience.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)