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The 46th Oakland Greek Festival hopes to instill a little “kefi” in everyone

OAKLAND HILLS — “Kefi” is a Greek word without a direct English translation, but the closest definition is joy and exuberance with abandon.
Paul Kafaros says kefi can’t be fully explained with words. But it can be shown through food, drink, music and dance at the Oakland Greek Festival this weekend.
“Kefi is a feeling,” said Kafaros, one of the head organizers of the event. “It’s enjoying yourself. You let go of everything and just have a good time.”
The 46th annual Oakland Greek Festival has been around since 1972 in the complex of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in the Oakland hills. Surrounding the church, Greek food like gyros and souvlaki are home-made by church parishioners and cooked on the spot and Greek wine and beer are served in multiple stands. Non-stop Greek music and dance groups flanked both ends of the cathedral.
Kefi was on show at the saganaki, or Greek fried cheese, stand as cooks and bystanders yelled “Opa!” while throwing brandy on the cheese, lighting it on fire for a brief moment.
As for what food to enjoy, Kafaros recommended loukamades —deep-fried dough balls drizzled in honey, cinnamon and nuts — and “anything with lamb.”
The festival — with the motto “It’s great to be Greek, even if it’s just for a weekend” — began on Friday and will continue until Saturday at 11 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Rachell Overall, from Oakland, tries on a headpiece at the Oakland Greek Festival on May 19, 2018 at Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland, California. (Photo By Haley Nelson) 
On Sunday, admission after 5 p.m. is free for any attendees. Normal admission prices for adults and children above the age of 12 are $6. Children under the age of 12 are free.
The festival is divided into five sections, each representing a geographic region of Greece, such as the Aegean Islands or the Peloponnese peninsula. Attendees can get stamps from all five parts of the festival on the brochure to win a free bowl of loukamades, according to Sofo Kyriakopedi, who with Kafaros organized this year’s festival.
“This festival is all about culture, 100 percent,” said Kyriakopedi. “We want everybody in the Bay Area — not just Oakland — to experience our festival.”
The Bay Area Greek community is large but spread out beyond Oakland in communities like Belmont, San Jose and elsewhere and the festival is one way for everyone to come together, according to Kyriakopedi.
But the festival also serves as a bridge that allows young Greek Americans in the Bay Area to feel connected to their heritage, according to Kafaros. All festivals are staffed by volunteers and the current head organizers are grooming the next generation to carry on the festival tradition.
Alex Galas plays the bouzouki at the Oakland Greek Festival on May 19, 2018 at Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension in Oakland, California. (Photo By Haley Nelson) 
Festival  attendees can  visit the ornate cathedral at any time. The festival will hold two tours of the church on Sunday with a question and answer session about the faith.
The festival also will hold special events for Bay Area sports fans. Radio station 95.7 The Game will host its Oakland Athletics’ pre-game and post-game shows at the festivals.
And for Warriors fans concerned about missing Sunday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets, the festival will broadcast the game on televisions in its designated “Olympic bar” — which from select angles overlooks the entire Bay Area.
“They can come watch the game, listen to live music, drink and eat at the same time,” said Kafaros. “We got the best view in town.”

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