There is something for everyone at the Jewish Heritage Festival

 

March 29, 2024

Jeff Bigman

The Jewish Heritage Festival, taking place April 7, is a phenomena in itself. Who knew it would be so successful from the get-go? What began in 2007 as a suggestion by 80-year-old Murray Steinberg to the Temple Presidents' Council for Volusia and Flagler counties that Volusia County should have a Jewish festival similar to the ones he went to in Richmond, Va., became the largest Jewish heritage and cultural event in the state.

The ball to research this project was handed to Jeff Bigman, who became the Jewish Heritage Festival chairman. As a trial attorney, he did research all the time. He was told about the largest Jewish festival in the country, held in Chicago. More than 300,000 people would attend this one-day festival!

A Steering Committee was formed. Bright House was the grand sponsor and monies from the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties Endowment Fund were used to launch the new festival. Only one year later, March 2008, the Jewish Heritage Festival held its first event with an astounding 10,000 visitors!

"We didn't expect this! We would have been happy with 1,000 to 2,000," Bigman said.

Since then, the event has been held every two years with a consistent attendance of more than 10,000 people – both Jews and non-Jews - from Orlando, Brevard, Jacksonville, the Villages, and even South Florida.

"We find that one-third to one-half [of the attendees] are Jewish," Bigman stated.

The festival used to start at 11 a.m. but because so many people arrived earlier and would just be waiting around, they decided to start at 10 a.m.

Exhibits and Attractions

In addition to all the wonderful children's attractions such as camel rides, a petting zoo, face painting, an obstacle course and much more, there will be many more exhibits and attractions.

Welcome to Israel

Visit the Jewish Hall of Fame/ Sights, Sounds and Symbols where you can see artifacts dug up from Israel. Volunteer docents can explain all the interesting artifacts on display.

Take a Matzah baking class or visit the Garden of Eden.

Jewish pirates?

We really don't think Jack Sparrow was Jewish, but speaker Steve Barber says there really were Jewish pirates of the Caribbean! Many Spanish and Portuguese Jews who escaped the Inquisition became pirates. Legendary pirates like Sinan Reis, Shmuel Palacci, Moses Cohen Henriques, Hayreddin Barbarossa and Jean Lafitte wreaked havoc on Spanish fleets with ships named Prophet Samuel, Queen Esther and Shield of Abraham.

Remembering the Holocaust

Holocaust survivors Bea Schemer and Suzanne Schneider will both share their stories about witnessing the rise of Nazism and their experiences living under the Nazi regime.

And Ken Tubertini will share his story fighting with the Jewish Resistance.

A first this year at the Festival is the USC Shoah Foundation's Dimensions in Testimony. Viewers can talk with Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter on an interactive video. This program allows people to ask questions and get real-time responses from pre-recorded video interviews with Gutter via a laptop computer. Amazing!

Vendors

What is a cultural festival without great food? Enjoy Mediterranean food such as felafel, hummus, tabouli from Oliv Epicurean Grill. Gili's Kitchen Food Truck will provide kosher foods.

There will also be a host of merchandise from artwork to jewelery to gourmet foods.

Security and parking

Two subjects Bigman gets the most questions about are security and parking.

He said there is plenty of parking available across Granada Blvd. at Fortunato Park as well as parking within a two-block walk of the venue. The closest parking in the paved and grassy parking areas adjacent to The Casements is reserved for guests displaying an official handicapped tag.

Because the event is held at The Casements, extra security is required.

"Sheriff Michael Chipwood [of Volusia County] is amazingly supportive," said Bigman. "He's got our back."

"There is so much for people to do, and there is something for everyone Jewish or non-Jewish, from 2 to 98 at the Jewish Heritage Festival," Bigman said. "It's also the biggest miracle we've created - where Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews come together!"

 

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