Some 800 people of all ages gathered at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.’s historic Congress Park for the sixth annual Shalom Festival, a Jewish music extravaganza that has become a fixture of summer life in the upstate community.

Sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of Saratoga Springs, the festival featured live performances, crafts, kosher food and displays by local artisans. Tourists joined local residents and college students for the occasion.

“I just loved the food and the ambience,” said Sid Stark, a local who works in car repair. “I’ve been to the festival a few times before, and it’s always nice meeting old friends there. It gives the community something Jewish to do on a Sunday afternoon and it feels good to see other people out there.”

Besides Israeli musician Yoel Sharabi, the festival featured juggling performances, a shofar-making factory in preparation for the approaching High Holidays, produce vendors, a market of Judaic arts and crafts, and a ritual scribe who gave demonstrations of his holy art by writing guests’ Hebrew names on parchment.

“We just try to create a friendly, warm environment to bring culture and pride to everyone,” said Rabbi Abba Rubin, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Saratoga Springs, who each week, visits about 100 community members in their homes or offices to talk, deliver challah or help them don tefillin. “Every festival makes people feel more connected to their Jewish heritage and to each other.”

Activities at the music festival included kosher pickle-making demonstrations.
Activities at the music festival included kosher pickle-making demonstrations.

Harold Weinstein, who has lived in Saratoga Springs for almost 30 years, attended the festival with his 72-year-old mother and 88-year-old father.

“The whole community was there,” he said. “There were so many people and so much to do. What a beautiful day; every seat was taken.”

Sue Joki emphasized the importance of offering Jewish events in such a location as Saratoga Springs.

“It’s always nice to have something Jewish in town, because Saratoga is predominately non-Jewish,” she said. “The festival really makes Judaism more ‘out there.’ I like a place where there is always someone to see that we know.”