Berlin Jewish Culture Festival Draws California-dreaming Crowds

A festival here highlighting the Jewish pleasures of California drew crowds for the opening of a two-week splurge of the Joys of Jewishing.

The seventh annual Jewish Culture Days kicked off two weeks of packed programming here Sunday with artists and speakers from the golden state, this year’s featured area.

A wide variety of events, including lectures and discussions, plays, concerts, movies and exhibits, fill this year’s program.

Allen Ginsberg, the Beatnik poet whose works, many of them penned in San Francisco, include “Kaddish” and “Howl,” gave a reading of his work.

The Klezmatics, a Jewish folk band that has done much to make klezmer music popular in the United States, performed at the Jewish Community Center.

Discussion topics have a wide span, including sexuality and Jews, feminist rabbis, the Holocaust and Jewish identity.

Guests include Tikkun magazine publisher Michael Lerner (formerly of Oakland, Calif., now living and publishing in New York); Rabbi Laura Geller of Los Angeles; and Professor David Biale of the University of California at Berkeley.

Program organizer Andreas Nachama said California was chosen because of the size and strength of the Jewish community there and also because of the desire to have an upbeat theme this year.

Last year’s Jewish Culture Days focused on Eastern Europe.

“Last year we showed a decimated community,” he said. “We wanted to contrast that against the American Jewish community.” The themes for the coming years are Paris, Jerusalem and southeastern Europe.

“California has one of the most active, lively Jewish communities in the United States,” said Zafrir Cohen, a co-organizer of Jewish Culture Days.

Jerzy Kanal, head of Berlin’s Jewish community, numbering some 10,000, noted that because they are so few in number, the city’s Jews need to link up with other communities. “We can only assert ourselves when we participate in these larger Jewish communities,” he said.

The Culture Days are also important in bringing Jewish culture to non-Jews in Berlin. “Only through contact can we reduce prejudices,” Kanal said.

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