September 14, 2009

YOK to Break New Ground–and Attendance Record–with Urban Rosh Hashanah Event

"Yo OK” is Spanish for “I’m OK”—and that idea is the inspiration behind The YOK Project, an exciting JDC-initiated program with various partners in Argentina that deploys non-traditional means to connect with Jews who are unaffiliated with traditional Jewish institutions. YOK reaches out to this group through innovative urban events and activities that are infused with Jewish content, customs, and traditions. That description certainly applies to the YOK’s signature Urban Rosh Hashanah Festival, a popular outdoor celebration that returns to the streets of Buenos Aires September 12-13.

A record 30,000 people (Jews and some non-Jews) are expected to participate in the unique cultural event—up from the 28,000 who attended YOK’s Urban Passover in April—and anticipation is running high: “This (will be) my fourth Urbano,” said Marcela Armus, a psychiatrist and secular Jew who responds to the opportunity the event offers to explore Jewish culture and tradition outside a more formal context. “I really like these events because they are open to the whole community.”

Claudia Rozencwaig, another veteran attendee, is looking for this year’s festival to break new ground: “YOK keeps broadening opportunities for cultural entertainment and they re-invent themselves every year.” Indeed, the 2009 edition of Urban Rosh Hashanah will expand geographically to include four additional city blocks, as well as in the scope and variety of activities planned.

This year for the first time, participants will enjoy myriad crafts, music, an array of traditional foods, activities for children, and engaging forums on Jewish history, philosophy, and spirituality—all to be found along the festival path. Organizers expect to attract greater involvement by unaffiliated Jews who, nonetheless, are eager to embrace their Jewish roots.

“I long for these Urban weekends because my family doesn’t celebrate, which means, for me, this is my only contact with some of my Jewishness,” said Jazmin, a university student and opera singer.

It was to fill that very need that YOK launched its Urban festivals in 2006. Two terrorist attacks in the early 1990s spurred many Argentine Jewish institutions to turn insular, inadvertently weakening connections to secular and non-affiliated religious Jews on the outside. In 2006, YOK reversed the trend, taking Passover and Rosh Hashanah outdoors and inviting everyone to share in the celebrations at no cost and with no additional obligations. Said one YOK organizer: “We wanted to establish a space where people could gather to share their Jewish culture and traditions with the whole community.”

The results have proven popular with all age groups and backgrounds. “I’m not Jewish,” said Marcelo Bardi, a secular Catholic who plans on attending this year, “but this festival is a great place to show my kids something different from our own traditions.”

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