There's one major distinction between the Bay Area's Yiddish Culture Festival and most local activities billed as festivals — participation.
While most festivals invite patrons simply to watch, Yiddish Culture fest co-founder Judy Kunofsky says, “We focus on getting people to do things themselves — play klezmer music, sing Yiddish songs or dance like they do at a bar mitzvah.”
The majority of this year's festivities — presented by KlezCalifornia, a group dedicated to celebrating the artistic and cultural heritage of Eastern European Jewry — take place this weekend at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, and, as usual, everyone is welcome.
“There's a lot of stuff in a compact period,” Kunofsky says, for people familiar with the culture's music and literature and for newcomers.
“People who have never done klezmer just get right out on the floor and do it,” she says, adding that among the 10 workshops offered is a singing session for beginners.
Klezmer dancing happens throughout the festival, beginning with a Saturday night party featuring the renowned klezmer act Strauss/Warschauer from New York.
Violinist Deborah Strauss and mandolin player Jeff Warschauer, musical and academic masters in the field, will head up the fun.
Kunofsky is particularly excited about klezmer dancing, which she says is quite different from Israeli dancing, which has a lot of running and jumping.
“It's more about patterns on the floor than it is about fancy steps. Everybody can do it. People can also watch.”
For festival-goers who don't want to sing and dance — and there always are some, typically the older patrons — the program includes a history lecture, “From Nebishes to Allrightniks,” by Ken Blady.
One new event this year is an official after-party at Subterranean Arthouse, featuring three hot young local klezmer bands: Yiddishe Serenaders, Orchestra Euphonos and Nine Nine Nine.
Programmers even have the youngest crowd in mind, with activities geared to ages 6 to 12.
Mostly, though the festival is about celebrating. Kunofsky says one person described it as “a wedding without in-laws, with only your side of the family there.”
IF YOU GO
Yiddish Culture Festival
Presented by KlezCalifornia
Where: Most events at Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10-$20 for individual events; $30-$60 for passes
Note: The after party begins at 8 p.m. at Subterranean Arthouse, 2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley