Culture Blooming In Jerusalem
Tue, 05/14/2013
Israel Correspondent
Scenes from a dance performance from the Israel Festival. LIGHT CREDIT: Goor Dotan DANCE CREDIT: GTG/Gregory Batardon
Scenes from a dance performance from the Israel Festival. LIGHT CREDIT: Goor Dotan DANCE CREDIT: GTG/Gregory Batardon

Jerusalem — The Jerusalem cultural scene,
which is based almost entirely indoors during the winter months, really begins to blossom during Passover and comes to full bloom in the summer and through Sukkot.

Though blisteringly hot during the day, Jerusalem’s summer nights are beautiful, so most of the action takes place outdoors. 

For locals and tourists alike, the annual Israel Festival (May 23-June 22), now in its 52nd year, is one of the high points. Headquartered at the Jerusalem Theater complex, it offers an eclectic mix of local and international performances in locations around the city.

The musical performances include a reunion of Kaveret (aka Poogy), the wildly popular 1970s Israeli band, at Sultan’s pool, beneath the Old City walls; Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, at the Jerusalem Theater (with a lecture and short film as well); Holy City, a project with an Estonian orchestral ensemble and Latvian choir; a “Marathon of Beethoven’s Revolutionary Music” at the Jerusalem Theater; “The Libyans (Sacred Jewish Music from Libya),” also at the Jerusalem Theater; and several piano recitals  at the Eden-Tamir Music Center in the picturesque village of Ein Kerem.  

The First Station, housed in and around the city’s once-neglected historic train station — in the process of becoming a sparkling complex of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues — will host the New Gospel Quartet as well as free jazz performances as part of the Pais Jazz Fusion Club. The Station is the first/end point of the city’s new and much-loved walking/bike trail, which runs from Liberty Bell Park to the Arab village of Beit Safafa.

The dance performances include “Dressed to Dance,” a tribute to Dali and Dance Flamenco in the courtyard of the Tower of David Museum; and Housen by the L-E-V Dance Company, an Israeli modern dance troupe. The latter performance will provide a first glance at the newly renovated 19th-century Hansen Hospital, an estate that served as Jerusalem’s leper hospital and was, until now off-limits to the public. 

“The Table,” a form of sophisticated puppet theater (performed in English) by the Scottish Blind Summit troupe, will be performed at the Gerard Behar Theater in the heart of the city; the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater will showcase “The Bee,” a hostage drama also at Gerard Behar.

Additionally, Gerard Behar will host the Center Stage! Festival (May 21-June 8) featuring more than a dozen monodramas, including the provocatively named “Kahane Was Right.”

From June 5-13, the Old City of Jerusalem will host the third Festival of Light, a free event. The nightly event features creative illuminated art installations and performances by local artists throughout the city’s Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters. The routes are color-coded. Note that it gets very crowded and that there are a lot of steps to navigate.

The annual Jerusalem Film Festival (July 4-13) offers both Israeli and foreign films, many with English subtitles. In between showings at the beautiful Jerusalem Cinematheque, which affords a stunning view of the Old City and Hinnom Valley, and other movie houses, make sure to take a stroll on nearby Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, home to more than 30 restaurants and a dozen specialty shops.

The Hutzot Hayozer artisans’ fair, one of the city’s most popular annual events, will take place near the Old City, at Sultan’s Pool and the Artist’s Colony, every evening except Shabbat from Aug. 5-17. 

This is the best place to buy handmade gifts: jewelry, toys, ceramics, clothing, leather goods and hundreds of other items directly from Israeli craftspeople. Though there is an admissions fee, prices tend to be lower than what you’d pay for the same things in downtown stores. 

The fair also features a large international wing where artisans from around the world sell quality crafts like ceramics, tapestries and musical instruments.

There’s a wide range of kosher food for purchase and the admission fee includes a concert, usually by a well-known Israeli performer. The fair is a great place to bring kids, who have lots of space to run around.

The Israeli Wine Tasting Festival (July 30-August 2) takes place in the spacious sculpture garden of the Israel Museum. This is an opportunity to taste and buy excellent wine from the country’s many large and boutique wineries. The 80-shekel (about $20) admission fee includes admission to the museum until 9 pm, a wine glass you can keep, as well as unlimited tasting.  Book early.

Once completely dead after 8 p.m., the Mahane Yehuda shuk (market) is now a wonderful venue for after-dark entertainment and dining. The Balabasta Festival (Aug. 6, 13 and 20) capitalizes on the shuk’s transformation from produce market to chic-but-still-utilitarian marketplace.

Expect crowds and a lot of dancing and singing, and top off the evening at one of the area’s top-notch restaurants. 

The Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival (Sept. 6-7) offers an opportunity to hear the sacred music produced and revered by several faiths at a variety of synagogues and churches. Dress modestly. ◆