Thousands of people flocked to Brighton Beach Avenue on Sunday, Aug. 28 to partake in the thoroughfare’s namesake street festival — the Brighton Jubilee.
This year marked the 45th iteration of the fair, which its founder says serves as a celebration of Brighton Beach’s reputation as a “cultural melting pot.”
“[Former New York City Mayor David] Dinkins said years ago that ‘the city is a mosaic,’ [but] the mosaic is cracked and we can draw lines around each community and stay separate,” said Pat Singer, president of the Brighton Beach Neighborhood Association and founder of the Brighton Jubilee. “This is one event that really brings us all together, and I like that, I’m proud of that.”
Each year, jubilant Jubilee-goers are invited to shop, try new food and listen to live music — all while taking in southern Brooklyn’s rich cultural fabric. Organized each year by Singer’s association, the Brighton Jubilee pays homage to the neighborhood’s residents from around the world, the majority of them hailing from the former Soviet Union, several Spanish-speaking countries and Pakistan.
Sunday saw Brighton Beach Avenue turn into a world bazaar, featuring bargain shopping, ethnic cuisines, musical entertainment and games for the whole family to enjoy.
Stages were set up on Coney Island Avenue, West 12th and West 14th streets, where a variety of musical acts performed throughout the day, including bands from Bay Ridge’s rock and roll scene, Russian performers hosted by local radio station Freedom FM and a fan-favorite of Singer’s: a group of Peruvian flute players.
Music is a fundamental part of the street fair because it is the universal language, Singer said.
“A group of musicians who come every year and play the flute, which I love, it’s a beautiful sound,” Singer said. “We had music all over the place because that’s the international language, everyone understands music.”
People stream into the festival all day, oftentimes as early as 8:30 am — an hour and a half before festivities technically begin. One year, Singer said, a New York City Police Department chopper counted close to 125,000 people traversing Brighton Beach Avenue during the Jubilee.
“The crowd is constant,” she said, “and it’s constant from early morning.”
Despite all the work that goes into organizing the annual street fair, Singer said it all feels worth it when she sees families enjoying themselves and people talking to one another that might not have if it weren’t for the Jubilee.
“I love that people love it, it’s quite wonderful, it warms my heart. All the pain goes away when you people are enjoying it like that,” she said. “I like that it’s multicultural and multi-ethnic. It’s one of the rare fairs where you see everybody coming from different corners of the community.”
Many of the other street fairs in the peninsular neighborhood are no more, Singer said, and she is happy to keep this tradition going for her neighbors as it serves as an escape from daily life. Coming together for the Brighton Jubilee felt especially important this year, she added, in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which cancelled the event in 2020 and resulted in a smaller, scaled back version in 2021.
“People miss these things, a lot of the festivals we’ve had in the past are no longer being done,” Singer said. “We’ve all had a tough few years with COVID and everything else. I think people are looking for this escape to have fun and laugh and feel good about life.”
The longtime community leader said she thinks what makes the Brighton Jubilee so special is the personal nature of it — and that the association goes to such lengths to make sure visitors are comfortable and families are entertained.
“I don’t know what it is, I think it’s just because we give it a personal touch,” Singer said. “It has a nice feel to it, like a state fair from the old days.”
Singer says she launched the Brighton Jubilee in 1977 to stand up against skyrocketing crime and rampant quality of life issues in the neighborhood at the time. She hoped to foster an event that showcased the good qualities of Brighton Beach, with the ultimate goal of helping to turn it around.
“We were forming the idea of fighting back because Brighton Beach was going down the tubes,” she said. “Crime was bad and the boarding houses turned into drug houses, there was prostitution on Ocean View. It was very seriously deteriorating in the 70s and we wanted to get the message out that we’re alive and well by doing something positive.”
Singer told Brooklyn Paper she is very grateful to her staff at the Brighton Neighborhood Association and to her family who come to help out and make the Brighton Jubilee possible year after year.
“It’s a family affair all of us,” Singer said. “It wasn’t easy. It was a tough job.”
She also applauded the 60th precinct police officers and Department of Sanitation workers who quickly responded to the association’s concerns during — and in the days leading up to — the Jubilee, such as cleaning the streets and towing vehicles that ignored signs forbidding parking for that day.
“I think the police this year did a very good job, I think Sanitation did an exceptional job,” Singer said. “We definitely had problems at the beginning because the streets were dirty but Sanitation came and cleaned out some of the commercial garbage that was left behind.”
Now that this year’s Jubilee is over, the Brighton Neighborhood Association is on to their next task: finding a new handicap-accessible office space to operate out of. Earlier this year, Singer said, Chase Bank asked that the association move out of the office space they occupied for 45 years, previously donated by the money-lender.
“I’m looking for an office space to conduct our operations,” Singer said, adding that she hopes a local mom-and-pop business might offer up some of their space so that the Jubilee has a proper place to plan for coming years. “The rents are so sky-high, it’s crazy. We are hoping we will get somebody who will help us and offer us the space. That’s our next project.”
After that, it’s back to planning come January, Singer said.