Thousands attend Shoreline Jewish Festival in Guilford Green, including Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal
GUILFORD, Conn.—The green at the center of this quaint town on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound was once again bustling with Jewish life this week, bringing together the Jewish and general communities for five hours of Jewish music, crafts, storytelling, kosher food, Judaica and camaraderie—all on a picture-perfect midsummer Sunday sporting blue skies and low humidity.
The mother-daughter team of Sharon and Liat Feller were two of the many artisans displaying their crafts, including handmade jewelry and custom crayon party sets, at the Shoreline Jewish Festival. “We’re attracted to the Yiddishkeit of the festival and to the musicians,” says Sharon Feller. “We are fans of Greg Wall, who played at Liat’s wedding, and we are involved in Chabad in our town,” she tells Chabad.org.
Other arts-and-crafts projects for children included Jewish foil art, Jewish scratch art, designing a Jewish puzzle, beeswax Shabbat candles, Shema picture frames, challah covers and Jewish name bracelets.
Many also came to enjoy a wide range of kosher foods prepared fresh at the festival, now in its 16th year under the auspices of Rabbi Yossi and Rochel Baila Yaffe, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shoreline. Dr. Peter Rogol of New Haven, a longtime volunteer with the Chabad center reports that “the food tent was busy,” but notes “the people are very nice and understanding.”
Rogol says that knishes were the best seller, though he had heard “the shawarma was very good. People came with good appetites.” Other menu offerings included Roni’s donuts, pulled beef, hot dogs and hamburgers, falafel and beverages.
A Perfect Spot for a Festival
Like the greens in most quaint New England towns, the Guilford Green is the heart of the community. In the case of Guilford, it has served this role for four centuries. The 16-acre Green was established shortly after the community’s founding in 1639. It served as a pasture for livestock, and provided firewood and construction materials for homes and businesses, and became the center of religion, education and governance, and later a marketplace. Over time, the Green continued its evolution to become a beautiful recreational and gathering space—with lights, sidewalks, flagpoles and benches. Local high school graduations take place here, and each fall, the Guilford Fair parade encircles the Green.
And, thanks to the Yaffes, the Shoreline Jewish Festival takes place on the very same Green.
“It started 16 years ago, when we moved from Branford to Guilford,” about nine miles to the east, explains Rabbi Yaffe, aware that Jews and Judaism were an unfamiliar sight in this area. “We wanted to create an open door, large portal, to make connections and to provide a window for non-Jews into the Jewish people and culture, so it would be unfiltered but accessible,” he said.
Residents and visitors alike mark their calendars each year. “People drove from Texas and from Maryland. People don’t want to miss our beautiful festival,” says the rabbi. Others came from throughout Connecticut, including nearby Shoreline towns, New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Stamford and East Haddam.
Jewish Music, All Day Long
The music on the large stage was essentially non-stop throughout the festival.
Greg Wall and his “Zion New Wave” band, which included members of two of his well-known projects—Zion80 and Hasidic New Wave— were first up on the main stage. “The Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall is a saxophonist and composer, and a pioneer of blending jazz with Jewish music. He also serves as a rabbi in Westport, Conn., and performs weekly at a local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) hall. He completed his set with an upbeat jazzy rendition of “V’Shamru” from the Shabbat liturgy.
Emmy- and Grammy-nominated singer Peter Himmelman, who is also Bob Dylan’s Jewishly observant son-in-law, performed next and slowed things down with his mostly acoustic performance. He kept the crowd engaged with his anecdotes, stories and observations. Himmelman performed solo, then was joined by talented musicians—most having never played with the guitarist before.
The final musical group of the day, Yoni Lorber, was joined on stage by a keyboard player, bassist and drummer. The band was in fine form jamming to the wordless “Tzippi,” which he informed the audience was written by his uncle and mentor, the late Yossi Piamenta, known as “the father of Jewish electric guitar rock-and-roll.”
Connecticut Governor and U.S. Senator Join In
Lorber paused his performance as the several-thousand-person crowd welcomed the arrival of two special guests. “Shalom, Shalom. Thank you for coming! Thank you for all you do for this state,” Rabbi Yaffe exclaimed as he welcomed Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. They enjoyed comfortably mingling with excited festival-goers and patiently honored requests for photos.
“I come to the festival because the people here are some of the greatest citizens of the State of Connecticut,” Lamont told Chabad.org. He recounted that he recently returned from a productive economic development visit to Israel in February. “We were the first state to go on a mission to Israel after the pandemic,” he reported proudly.
Blumenthal said he was pleased to attend the festival, saying “I come every year. It is a time of joy, pride and inspiration for me as a Jew.”
And he notes the singularity of the event taking place each year: “To be on the Guilford Green … it goes back centuries to a time when people of our faith were not allowed here. It is an amazing thing. That’s what America is all about.”