For the first time in 23 years, the annual Harvest Festival in Montgomery County will not be held this year, because it would have fallen on Yom Kippur. The 24th-annual festival, traditionally held on the first Saturday of October, has been canceled, said Mike Riley, director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the event’s sponsor.
On July 21, Riley’s first day as director, he received an email from someone who identified herself as a Jew. She wrote that holding the festival on Yom Kippur was insensitive. Riley looked into it and discovered that the festival’s planning committee had been aware of the conflict in November 2013, but “decided it was not worth telling” their superiors. Riley then spoke with various colleagues. “The overwhelming reaction was ‘this is not good; you should not be holding this on a Holy Day,’ ” Riley said.
Riley then looked into moving the festival to a different day, but since it was already mid-July, it proved too difficult. No date could be found that either hadn’t already been set aside for a county event or would have accommodated the scheduling of vendors, volunteers and staff, he said. Since canceling the event, Riley has been getting emails, he said. “
People either love me or hate me.” Some writers “were very, very nice,” thanking him for his consideration. Others, he said, “were very dissatisfied,” and “some [emails] did” cross the line in their remarks. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington did not know of the conflict until the event was cancelled, said executive director Ron Halber. He said the poor timing was probably just a mistake. “It’s my experience, 99 percent of the time it was done with no malice.” The festival will be held next year on Oct. 3 at the Agricultural History Farm Park.