Sukkot celebration goes global

Some 2,000 people gathered at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills on Sept. 22 to celebrate Sukkot by building solar-powered race cars, creating sukkah decorations and belly dancing — all while eating global cuisine.

The second annual event, Sukkot Around the World, was organized by the Israeli American Council (IAC) and featured a food court with delicacies from a variety of countries in tapas-style portions, including Persian kabobs, Japanese sushi, Italian pasta, Israeli falafel, Mexican burritos and French pastries.

“The reason behind doing this event toward the evening is to give families the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of having a meal in the sukkah,” said Dikla Kadosh, IAC’s director of community events and volunteering. “The two large sukkot are designated just for eating so that the community can enjoy dinner together under the stars.”

Numerous other sukkot represented various Jewish communities from countries around the world, such as Israel, the United States, France, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Yemen, the Netherlands, Spain and India, with each providing an educational activity. Visitors were able to build a solar-powered racecar — and take it home with them — learn how to belly dance with a private instructor and take photos wearing hats from around the world. There were soccer games, edible sukkot and henna tattoos. 

Among the crowd was the Rifkin family of Woodland Hills, who said that Sukkot is one of their favorite holidays, reminding them of Thanksgiving and being grateful for things like the outdoors. 

“Having these types of events is important, especially how these events tie into the Jewish community,” parent Fran Rifkin said. “The craft activities are relevant to the holiday, and they help reinforce Jewish concepts and Judaism, and meaning of the events. Crafts speak to young children better than just trying to tell them [about a holiday] — it’s more hands-on, and I like that.”

Yonit Harounian of Los Angeles enjoyed the Yemen booth and creating golden hamsa souvenirs to bring home. With two children, 3 and 7, Harounian said she appreciated the many opportunities for her children to work creatively and hands-on with things related to Israel and the holidays.

“I love the fact that they are able to have fun and be kids at an event like this,” she said. “I love that they integrate everything — learning about the sukkah, learning about holidays — it brings everything together.”

Entertainment at the festival included dancers and two singers, Meshi Kleinstein, who is the daughter of Rita and Rami Kleinstein — two of Israel’s most famous singers — and Gilat Rapaport, an Israeli-American singer who is from the local community. Other performances were from the Los Angeles Israeli Dance Company of Milken Community High School under the direction of David Dassa, who performed dances from three different cultures. 

The festival was co-sponsored by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, Shevet Chen, the Shalom Institute, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Kadima Day School, the Israeli consulate, Hebrew Discovery Center and MATI, the Israeli Community Center. 

Next year, Kadosh said, the festival is expected to move to Woodley Park in Van Nuys, which is a bigger, more centrally located park.