It’s got a new name – from 1974 until this year it had been known as the Yiddish Music Festival – and a new lead organizer: the Westchester Jewish Council.
And it has a goal: to get a lot bigger.
“We really hope next year to make this the Jewish Woodstock,” said Elliot Forchheimer, the Jewish Council’s executive director. “So stay tuned.”
For the moment, though, longtime attendees worry that the festival’s numbers are dwindling. Sunday’s event, which featured several klezmer groups, drew several hundred guests — enough to provide hearty applause at the end of each song but not enough to fill the vast plaza.
Local politicians and their campaign volunteers turned out in droves, but there were no food stalls serving traditional fare.
Gitta Silberstein, a physician who lives in Scarsdale, said, “I’ve come for many years and there used to be many more people.”
Silberstein was born in Poland during World War II and was hidden in a convent. She eventually made her way to the Bronx and, later, Westchester.
She said events like this are important because they help people with a common background commit to their Jewish heritage. Silberstein, who speaks Yiddish, brought her 10-year-old grandson with her.
“He has to know where he is coming from,” she said. “Hopefully it will help him know where he is going to go.”
On the other side of the plaza, Helene Shames, a dental hygienist from Nanuet, considered the necklaces and bracelets offered by the sole vendor who’d set up a booth. On her red T-shirt was a Star of David formed out of the depictions of several instruments often heard in klezmer music.
Years ago, she said, the whole lawn between the plaza and the parked cars would be full of people. On Sunday, it contained about 50, picnicking and listening to the music.
“I grew up hearing this,” she said. “It reminds me of my parents, who are no longer here. It’s my culture.”
Shames said she worries about her culture’s longevity.