Judaism is back in Bucks County — not that it ever left, thanks to continued synagogue programming and strong membership.
However, a staple of the Jewish community had been missing.
“There was always a giant Jewish festival at Shady Brook Farm [in Yardley],” said Eve Berger, coordinator of the Bucks County Jewish Coalition (BCJC). After several years without the festival, it returned last year. It’s cementing its presence with a second-annual installment next week.
BCJC co-chair Alan Sheinberg remembered the original festival as a major undertaking.
“We used to get 3,000 or 4,000 people to come out and have a good time,” he said, noting that that permutation of the event probably ended six or seven years ago.
The festival brought together Jews across Bucks County, and coalition members longed to regain the unity that spanned a community.
When the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia reallocated its budget in 2014 to fund community grants for neighborhood kehilot, BCJC was born. It will host the new Bucks County Jewish Israel Festival on June 4 at Bucks County Community College. The free event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Last year, BCJC organized the first revamped festival, which drew a crowd of 800 despite poor weather. This year, with a bigger venue and increased programming, organizers hope the numbers near Shady Brook Farm levels.
With a focus on Israel celebrating its 69th birthday, this year’s event aims to enlighten attendants through interactive maps of the country, mock boot camp drills with a former Israel Defense Forces soldier and cultural immersion featuring an Israeli shuk (marketplace) and kosher wine tasting.
Locals will provide services at the festival as well, with a yoga instructor offering “Shalom Gentle Yoga,” DJ Kenneth Alman providing Israeli and pop tunes, and seven area rabbis offering talks ranging from “Israeli Politics 101” to “Jewish Meditation.”
In addition to entertaining adults, the event offers numerous stations for children.
For active young ones, the festival will have gaga — the Israeli game that combines handball and dodgeball — and table tennis in the college gymnasium. Outdoors, Berger said to expect an inflatable obstacle course and Krav Maga demonstrations.
Besides the athletic activities, the festival appeals to children with face painting and temporary tattoos featuring designs of the Israeli flag and the hamsa. Kids who appreciate art can create their own at an indoor craft table, near a station of K’NEX blocks where they can build a map of Israel.
Also new this year for BCJC is expanded outreach.
The coalition recently organized a Jewish film festival over three weekends in three Bucks County towns. Total attendance reached 1,000, Sheinberg said. Next year, in celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday, BCJC aims to provide year-long programming.
“Our mission is to provide the Jewish community with events and a venue to express their Judaism,” Sheinberg said, noting “lots of people are not synagogue members,” yet yearn to continue their Judaism.
“I want to ensure the Jewish community in Bucks County is out and about,” she said. “The festival is about bringing the community together and having fun to celebrate Israel.”
Both emphasized the importance of Israel in building a strong Jewish community.
“Israel is our homeland. It’s our Jewish connection,” Sheinberg said.
To deepen festivalgoers’ interest in the country, the event offers a free raffle for $1,000 toward a flight to Israel. BCJC hopes the raffle and other festival features will continue the trend of renewed Jewish community engagement in Bucks County.