Taking full advantage of the waning days of summer, communities at opposite ends of the Garden State have packed two of the last three weekends of the season with music, carnival rides, and other family-friendly entertainment in a display and celebration of Jewish pride.

On August 23rd, more than 800 people flocked to Ventnor Beach on the New Jersey shore for the fifth-annual Jewish Summer Fest hosted by Chabad-Lubavitch at the Shore. Featuring rides, face painting, arts and crafts and a kosher barbeque of Israeli and American favorites, the event drew also drew attention to the fast-approaching High Holidays with a shofar factory where attendees could make their own rams’ horns.

“The event really brought out the Jewish pride of those who came,” said Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, rabbi of the Chabad Ventnor Shul and coordinator of the festival. “Many people went back to their home communities with a newfound excitement about their Jewish heritage”

According to Rapoport, the festival’s highlight was an evening concert by Israeli musician Oneg Shemesh and his American counterpart, Laible ben Moshe. The duo entertained the crowd with a musical style drawn on traditional Jewish melodies, American folk chords, jazz and rock.

Thousands Expected

Further inland, the Lubavitch Center of Essex County, an affiliate of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, is gearing up for the final celebration of the season: the 31st Jewish Renaissance Festival, during which thousands of people are expected to fill the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange this Labor Day Weekend.

West Orange resident Doug Klein, who has brought his two children to the Jewish Renaissance Festival several years in a row, credits the annual event with getting locals excited about Judaism.

“It is a multi-dimensional event, and you leave feeling like every part of your personality has gotten something out of it,” he said. “But the highlight, for me, is being able to watch my kids watch [popular performer] Uncle Moishy together with 1,000 other Jewish kids. For the children, that is an amazing experience.”

Rabbis Boruch Klar and Mendy Kasowitz, respectively, the director and associate director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County, are organizing the Sunday and Monday festival this year. Kasowitz described the event as a “day of Jewish unity and joy.”

“We take special pride in having this festival on such a large scale in a year of hakhel,” said Kasowitz, referring to the every-seventh year gathering of men, women and children at the Temple in Jerusalem, “which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, emphasized is a year for Jews to come together and celebrate unity.”

Klar invited the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Hebrew Academy for Special Children to bring some of their program participants to the festival as guests. A similar organization in Long Island was similar invited.

Children enjoy the arts and crafts at last year’s Jewish Renaissance Festival.
Children enjoy the arts and crafts at last year’s Jewish Renaissance Festival.

Illustrative of the festival’s theme, children who attend will be asked to contribute to a large Unity Painting mural. Meanwhile, people of all ages can experience a “World of Good” tent that will feature a scribal-arts workshop, a challah-baking demonstration and exhibits on the Jewish holidays.

As at last year’s festival, Campy’s Amusement will provide carnival rides and attractions over the course of the event.

“The feedback we got after last year’s event was very positive,” said Kasowitz, pointing to the first time that the festival featured an amusement-park component. “We’re excited to be able to offer this again.”

Rounding out the festival will be a number of vendors, including Jewish artists selling paintings and other works of art, the Kehot Publication Society, and several stands offering kosher food, including such carnival fare such as hot dogs, corn on the cob, caramel apples and cotton candy.

Last year’s event drew 5,000 people. This year, organizers hope that 5,000 will attend each day.

For Klein, the growing number of people attending the festival each year is part of what draws him and his family.

“When you can celebrate being a Jew with so many people,” he said, “it makes a good thing even more beautiful.”