Boulder Jewish Festival organizers call to visitors with their event's tag line: "Come in, our tent is open!"
The tents set up along Pearl Street for this weekend's Boulder Jewish Festival have a bit of symbolism. Not only do the tents shelter their users from Colorado heat or rain, but they also mimic the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah, whose tent was open on all four sides to let in anyone who wanted to visit.
"It's a way to explore and get in touch," said festival director Cheryl Fellows.
The Boulder Jewish Festival, now in its 16th year, will take place 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 6 in front of the Boulder County Courthouse on Pearl Street.
The festival aims to reach out to both passersby and those who identify as Jewish, but Fellows said a major goal is engaging community members who are not necessarily affiliated with a synagogue or are new to town.
"It's a challenge for the Jewish community to find the best ways to be welcoming, and a lot of people just don't have strong ties or are new and don't know how to get involved," she said.
In the Denver and Boulder region, only 32 percent of those who identify as Jewish are connected to a regular congregation, according to the 2007 Jewish Community Study. The study is conducted every 10 years to assess the needs of Jewish people in the metro area.
In the same study, 25 percent said they felt they were part of a Jewish community.
The study, which also examined factors such as household income, number of interfaith households and household values, underscored the need for Jewish groups to focus on outreach and interconnectedness, said Nancy Gart, co-chair of the study.
"Newcomers, those living outside of central Denver and interfaith couples continue to be under-served by and under-connected to our communal institutions," Gart said.
Boulder Jewish Festival organizers said the event has grown from year to year, in part because of the focus on involving different denominations, community groups and cultural traditions. This year's event will have a record number of booths, and organizers expect to see more than 15,000 people.
By displaying resources, art and food out in the open, the festival aims to eliminate the metaphorical doorway people must walk through to learn more about Judaism's cultures, beliefs and traditions, Fellows said.
"It's Judaism in public spaces. It takes a lot to walk through the door when you don't know anyone and don't know what is behind the door. This is out in the open, and you don't have to cross that threshold," she said.
This year, the Jewish Outreach Institute included the festival in Big Tent Judaism, an online resource for Jewish religious and cultural groups and "all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people, regardless of prior knowledge or background," according to the directory.
Fellows and other organizers decided to expand the festival's focus a few years ago when some volunteers started talking about visitors who came from non-Jewish households, grew up in a different faith or felt strongly tied to Judaism's cultural traditions.
When the group considered asking visitors if they preferred latkes, a fried potato pancake, or hamantash, a three-cornered pastry often served during Purim, "we realized not everyone would recognize those words if you weren't raised in a Jewish household," she said.
For more information about the festival, visit boulderjewishfestival.org.
Megan Quinn writes a weekly faith column for the Camera and can be reached at bubblegumandbibles