By Rachel Kaufman
Back in full force after a three-year hiatus, the 13th Jewish Arts Fest (JAF) will make its triumphant return at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on August 28. The JAF is a showcase of Jewish music, crafts, performing arts and culture, with this year offering more vendors and entertainment than ever before.
“The Jewish Arts Fest is Dallas’s largest Jewish community event, and has brought thousands of people to the Meyerson (and one year to the Eisemann) for 11 years,” said Judy Cohn, the Jewish Community Center’s director of cultural programs. Launched in 1996, the event remained a popular staple until the economy went south. Cohn said that in 2008, the event attracted smaller-than-usual audiences.
“We decided to put it on hold until people started asking that we bring it back,” Cohn said. “When I began hearing ‘Is there going to be an Arts Fest this year?’ from numerous people, I discussed it with Artie Allen, JCC president, and we decided that it was time to try it again.”
The JAF got its start when a group of community members decided to put on a large community event dedicated to Jewish culture and tradition. “We wanted to keep the cost of admission low so that everybody could afford to come and enjoy an entire day of Jewish arts and culture,” Cohn. “When we think about how to reach people who are not going to be reached by conventional means, we have to think of other ways to touch them, like through culture and creative expression including art, music, dance, literature and poetry.”
In its debut, JAF had 42 artists, and Tovah Feldshuh as the headliner. This year, 30 artists from all over the world will offer various crafts for sale in booths around the Arts Fest. Two of the artists from the first JAF, Veronique Jonas and Michael Chausovsky, will be back in their booths again this year. While the artists are one of the event’s largest draws, they aren’t the only activity. The entertainers have always been a JAF highlight. Though previous events offered specific themes, this year’s will be more broad-based, with a focus on entertainers with whom participants are more familiar.
“We invited Rick Recht (joined by the choirs at Akiba Academy, Levine Academy and Temple Shalom); comedian Elon Gold, whose show ‘Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish’ was a sell out when we brought him to Dallas two years ago, The Prince of Kosher Gospel, Joshua Nelson (joined by the choirs of Temple Emanu-El, Temple Shalom and Kol Rina of Anshai Torah), who has performed at our festival twice before and is universally loved, and The Slappy and Monday Show, two wonderful award-winning clowns,” said Cohn.
Adults aren’t the only ones who will be entertained this year. “We’re trying to reach out to teens,” Cohn said. With that in mind, two original plays by two Booker T. Washington H.S. for Performing Arts students — Jourdan Stein and Josh Greenfield — are on tap in the Speakers’ Corner, an interactive feature where experts discuss different aspects of Jewish culture.
“This is definitely a big social event for people my age because we all know we’re going to be there,” said Stein. “The volunteer opportunities in the Kidz Korner are always a big draw, and the plays, speakers and the music are important to me and my friends.”
Stein’s play, “Not So Different,” is “about two girls, a Palestinian and an Israeli, who are in the same hospital room. Together they realize that they’re very similar and that hate is not the answer to this problem,” she explained.
Greenfield’s staged work, “Genisis One,” is “a fictional story very loosely based on the structure of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, but by no means is it an adaptation of the story,” he said. “Rather it’s a fictional story using the characters and setting of the biblical story as a foundation.” Greenfield graduated Booker T this year and is headed to Israel for a gap year before college.
Also in the Speaker’s Corner will be Mark Kreditor, who will start the day off with his ever-popular “Jews, Pews and Blues — Synagogues Connections to the American Songbook” program.
Kreditor, a community favorite, said, “I’ve presented before at the Arts Fest but this is time will be even better. It will have multimedia elements and I’m using the iPad and iPhone to do some pretty neat things I’ve never done before to enhance this performance.”
Stein, like many in the Dallas community, is really looking forward to spending the day inside the Meyerson. “It’s been away for a really long time and there’s a whole new generation that gets to come and experience it,” she said. “Everything is always fun and re-experiencing it is going to be great. They’ve really revamped a lot of stuff. It’s one of those times when you feel very Jewish and connected to your community.”
“This is the perfect way to spend a hot, summer day,” Cohn said. “We’re really excited about this fantastic event and we hope everyone will come out and take advantage of these wonderful opportunities to enjoy Jewish culture.”
Added Kreditor: “This is a 100 percent wonderful program!”
What: The 13th Jewish Arts Fest
When: August 28, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Where: Inside the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. (at the intersection of Pearl and Flora Streets in Downtown Dallas)
Who: Anyone interested in spending the day immersed in Jewish art and culture.
How much: Buy tickets in advance through www.jccdallas.org, any area Tom Thumb grocery store, or by calling the JCC at 214-739-2737. $15 in advance/$20 at the door for adults. $8 in advance/$10 at the door for kids 3 to 15. Kids under 3 are free.
Parking Options: Self parking in the Lexus Red Garage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center: $5; Two surface lots across the street from the 7 Eleven Tower and Ross Avenue: $5; Hall Street Garage: $10; Cathedral Garage: $10; Meyerson Valet at the front entrance: $20