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History in the Park

[whitespace] First-ever public event to celebrate Jewish heritage

By Cecily Barnes

A few weeks ago, a Willow Glen woman called Councilman Frank Fiscalini to complain about an art sculpture in Wallenberg Park. Why, the woman demanded, was a 7-foot sculpture of a menorah planted in her park? Fiscalini's aide explained that the sculpture was not of a menorah, but of a tree. The caller was appeased, but some members of the Jewish community are not. For years they have looked the other way as the dominant religion erected public displays at holiday time.

In fact, for nearly 20 years, the city of San Jose has pitched in up to $200,000 annually to remake Plaza de Cesar Chavez into a Christmas wonderland, complete with a nativity scene. Rabbi Leslie Alexander of Saratoga's Congregation Beth David says it's high time the community learned about the city's Jewish history, too.

On March 28, Beth David members will convert the San Jose Historical Museum into a gala of games and information about the history of Jews in San Jose and California. The event, a first for the community, will be called "Havdalah & History."

People should dress in 18th-century attire, come with an empty stomach and wear their dancing shoes. Loads of crafts projects and games will be organized to keep kids busy, and hopefully teach them something about Jewish history in the process.

"The goal of this event is to allow people in the Jewish community to experience a special religious event along with a large number of people in their community,"Alexander says, "and to inform the community about their history and to create a sense of joy and pride."

Beth David will underwrite the event. Docents and participants will volunteer their time, and the temple will charge an entrance fee of $18 for adults and $9 for children.

"We are a private institution renting this facility," Alexander says. "And we're using no city funds."

Alexander says the event will be a havdalah, the conclusion of the day of rest and awakening of the senses. "We'll begin with a Jewish ceremony to end the Sabbath, with sensory imagery, smells and tastes. It will be sensual."

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From the March 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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