Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
Festivals and Fairs in Israel

by Daniella Ashkenazy

 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
  Israel a country with 5.8 million residents where theater-going exceeds attendance at spectator sports is a society rich in cultural events, including festivals of all kinds and descriptions: Music and dance; theater and cinema; and the plastic arts.

A 1996 survey found that some 70 events billed as festivals of every type and description were publicized through the year in Israels largest Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot.

Cultural geographers point out that in modern times, festivals have filled purposes beyond fun and entertainment, serving to one degree or another a mixture of economic interests and cultural politics. They act as a tribal mechanism of "we-ness" promoting social cohesion while at the same time fueling economic aims. Even the five-week Salzburg Festival, "father of the modern festival," founded in 1918, and the renowned Edinburgh Festival, initiated in 1947, both served as vehicles for national definition as well as fulfilling economic goals.

Festivals in Israel reflect certain patterns and trends particular to Israeli society and culture. Historically, the festivals have served a dual role on the cultural scene: to nurture and promote local culture, and to expose local culture to currents elsewhere, as both a benchmark and source of inspiration.

As elsewhere, festivals in Israel have been mobilized for economic purposes, by both local authorities and commercial interests, and are used by performing artists to promote their careers. Over the years, the subject, the location, the scope and even the goals and overall character of the "festival circuit" have changed dramatically.

In the fifties, festivals were few and far between. Those that did take place were predominantly "inward-looking" in orientation. In the sixties and seventies, the festival scene was dominated by one festival – the Israel Festival – a step up in scale from previous festivals, which provided a better balance between artists from Israel and abroad.

Only in the eighties did Israel witness a blossoming of festivals of all kinds and colors a successful mixture that has continued into the nineties.

Festivals in Israel fall in two basic categories: There are festivals that provide a concentrated "dose" of culture based on existing material, whether local or imported; these are epitomized by the Israel Festival founded in 1963. There are also festivals that create culture staging new productions and new material an element present in four major Israeli festivals the Acco Alternative Theater Festival, the Carmiel Dance Festival, the Arad Hebrew Song Festival and the Red Sea Jazz Festival, all launched in the 1980s.

Summer is the most popular time for festivals anywhere, but Israels climate extends the traditional "festival season", as six months of dry summer from May to September lend themselves to large open-air events. This makes it possible, for example, to plan the gala opening for an international film festival in Jerusalem with 5,000 participants in the historic Sultans Pool under a canopy of stars on a gigantic screen above the heads of the spectators. No rain checks necessary.

Jewish religious holidays such as Sukkot (Tabernacles) in the fall; Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights) in the winter; Pesach (Passover) in the spring and Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks) in early summer serve as a natural "anchor" for festivals of all kinds and descriptions religious and secular. During the early years of the state, creative energies were invested in reviving agricultural aspects of these holidays which had a purely religious context in the Diaspora. Shavuot, for example, was transformed into a one-day festival marked by tractors decorated with agricultural produce, prize livestock, boys armed with scythes and barefoot girls with baskets of first fruits on their shoulders recalling a county fair. Passover, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, was marked with a popular three-day march to Jerusalem.

Most workers enjoy a two-day weekend, and the Jewish calendar provides many extended weekends. In fact, some would argue that art festivals fill a void among non-observant Jews in Israel, providing an "alternative" form of festive content and spiritual nourishment to that of the Jewish holidays. Thus it is not surprising that today six major festivals are scheduled during the Passover holiday four classical music festivals, one sculpture biennial and a childrens theater festival.

Concurrent with development of a local cultural genre, there has been a strong European emphasis in Israeli culture. The Ein Gev Festival, the first genuine music festival held in Israel, not only reflected the dominant European background, but exposed Israeli society to cultural currents elsewhere primarily European ones both for the purposes of comparison and as a source of inspiration.

The first decade of the state was a critical period marked by political, economic and social difficulties in the wake of the War of Independence and mass immigration that stretched state resources to the limits. In the midst of rationing, housing shortages and unemployment, exacerbated by security problems such as incursions of infiltrators, the nurturing of a unifying national culture was regarded as an essential element in nation-building.

Forging a common culture deemed essential for the states survival as a political and social entity was to "will" an Israeli culture in language, literature, and the arts. This was also reflected in mass audience festivals for the most part one-day affairs that characterized the first two decades of statehood. These included the Adloyada Purim procession; renewal of ancient agricultural harvest festivals associated with Sukkot and Shavuot; and a series of one-time "festivals" anchored to an historic event such as a citys anniversary. Organized to strengthen national identity and pride and social cohesion, these events were characterized by the staging of grandiose and colorful pageants integrating two forms of indigenous cultural expression Hebrew music and Israeli folkdancing.

Thus, festivals in the fifties had an inward-looking focus that mobilized arts to provide ideological content, creating a continuity with ancient cultural currents. In these years, artistic development mirrored an environment when ideological content and attempts at self-definition permeated every aspect of life, including the arts a situation that moved one observer to dryly comment that "Israel is most probably the only nation where folk dancing is the prerogative of choreographers."

The early sixties constitute a milestone in the development of Israeli festivals signaling an international turn in focus and scope. This was marked by the founding of the Israel Festival and the inauguration of the International Book Fair both ambitious ventures, expensive to mount and complex to orchestrate. This shift was also part of a general process of "institutionalization" of culture in Israel foundation of permanent frameworks such as new theaters, orchestras, museums and so forth. This differed from the fluid nature of cultural life in the first decade of statehood.

The Israel Festival was so successful in its early years that it dominated the festival landscape for two decades perhaps discouraging any competition. To this day, festivals that have since developed are of a lesser magnitude and more focused on a specific market or art form.

Since the early 1980s, Israel has witnessed a blossoming of festivals of all kinds high-brow and low-brow, mass-attendance and intimate, with an international or local focus, populist or fringe.

Israeli art is highly subsidized. This is a concerted effort of the Ministry of Education and Culture, the National Council of Culture and Art and Omanut Laam the Popular Arts Program (the latter a framework designed to bring cultural events to the periphery). In the 1980s, all cooperated to "widen the cultural circle" with festivals in outlying areas.

Theater is subsidized by the government and local municipalities by up to 60% of operating costs. When it became apparent that groups on the fringe were unable to mount productions on their own, the government stepped in founding and funding the Acco Fringe Theater Festival as a proving ground for aspiring playwrights, producers and actors.

In the wake of the phenomenal success of the Acco festival, every small town in Israel wanted a festival to call its own. Among these are half a dozen spring and fall festivals that intermix arts with crafts; a Brass Orchestra Festival in Kfar Saba; a beer and pop music festival billed as "Breezes" in Ashkelon; a country, folk and blues music festival labeled "Jacobs Ladder" in Kibbutz Haon and the Tzemach Festival a two-day around-the-clock Israeli pop and rock concert for teens in and around the grounds of the Tzemach amphitheater on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. A spring festival at the Dead Sea the lowest place on earth includes soloists and music ensembles, spiritual seminars, fairs, childrens activities, and relaxing in the unique waters of the Dead Sea.

Among the more creative of the local festivals is A Stone in the Galilee an international sculpture symposium sponsored by the development town of Maalot in the Galilee.

Sculptors are invited to work on location, overlooking the picturesque remains of a Crusader castle, during the week of Passover in the spring creating environmental sculpture with blocks of Galilean stone provided by the municipality.

The success of government initiatives to "decentralize culture," as in the Acco and Arad festivals, was closely associated with changes in society rising standards of living, development of a consumer society and a leisure culture; and exposure to cultural currents abroad, including arts festivals. In the eighties more and more Israelis traveled abroad encountering international festivals and cable TV in the nineties brought such events into homes. Concurrently, the country witnessed rapid development of local tourism with an emphasis on touring by car, accommodation of bed and breakfasts and meals in roadside restaurants, as well as a strong focus on open-air activities from picnicking and rafting to recitals and concerts.

These include a three-day festival during the Passover week at Misgav in the Upper Galilee entitled "Days of Music and Nature" that blends concerts and harmony with nature through a series of walking tours.

Today half of all Israeli festivals are in the Galilee and less than a third in Tel Aviv part of a move towards decentralization of culture. Today, the process of decentralization is evident in the major festivals held throughout the country from "Chamber Music Days" in an Upper Galilee kibbutz to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.

The phenomenal success of the Red Sea Jazz Festival prompted the 1993 launching of a "Blues and Soul Festival" amidst the ships and cranes of Haifa port.

The role of festivals in local leisure culture is akin to the eternal quandary Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Some stress that Galilee festivals have played a central role in the development of the Galilee, others stress that their success has been fueled by the transformation of the Galilee into an attractive tourist site. The flowering of festivals reflects a growing realization among local councils and commercial interests of the economic potential inherent in Israels geo-historical assets turning picturesque settings into attractive backdrops for commercial ventures. These include Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee site of Jesus miracle of the "The Fishes and the Loaves" where vocal and chamber music concerts are held in the fall in the Church of the Fishes and the Loaves; an interdisciplinary arts festival staged in the Roman theater at Beit Shean in May; the Khutzot Hayotzer crafts fair held every August near the walls of Jerusalems Old City; and a Crusader castle in the Western Galilee that serves as the backdrop for a Renaissance Music Festival in the fall.

One of the keys to the extraordinary number of festivals launched in the past decade tens of new ones, large and small is accessibility.

Even festivals in outlying areas are only a few hours drive from population centers made accessible by mobility gained by the rising standard of living that has made family cars more commonplace in the past two decades.

The blossoming of festivals in the mid-Eighties has also been characterized by the appearance of festivals dedicated to art forms other than music and dance: In addition to photography, a number of small festivals have been mounted that focus on the plastic arts such as the Ein Hod Sculpture Biennial inaugurated in 1990. The most successful among the "other arts" has been the cinema.

Some observers believe the blossoming of niche-audience festivals in the nineties spells a change of orientation. Optimists see this as a sign of normalcy; pessimists fear abandonment of attempts to create a common culture is a sign of "social fragmentation."

Another sign of cultural diversity infused with more than a shot of commercialism are folklore festivals.

The past decade has been hallmarked by the flowering of folklore festivals, particularly in the Arab sector motivated by a mixture of heightened national consciousness among Israeli Arabs; efforts by the government to nurture tourist industry in Arab towns; and the desire of commercial interests to cash in on the economic prosperity brought to the Galilee by touring Israelis and tourists form abroad.

The growing awareness of the picturesque character of the Arab village as a drawing card, laced with growing ethnic pride, have launched a National Arab Song Festival featuring poetry and songs held in the town of Tamra in April; an Arab Monodrama Festival staging six to eight single-actor plays at Beit Hagefen an Arab culture center in Haifa, in May; a National Debka Festival of Druze and Arab folk dancing that attracts some forty folklore dance groups annually in the village of Majd al Krum in August; and an interdisciplinary art festival in Nazareth in September-October.

The most high-profile festival in the Arab sector is also Israels most prominent vocal music festival. It is held in Abu Gosh, an Arab village near Jerusalem, and features a repertoire of liturgical music.

The eighties and nineties have also witnessed a host of small out-of-the-mainstream festivals in Tel Aviv during the winter months including an international guitar festival in November, a week-long Curtains Up Festival of new choreography in December and a four-day Teatronetto Festival devoted to solo drama performances in March. Jerusalem hosts an annual sacred music festival in January and a biennial Poets Festival in late March.

Wine festivals have been inaugurated in recent years by a number of local town councils in Jewish settlements like Zichron Yaakov. Continuing this theme, a "culinary festival on wheels" in the Western Galilee labeled Derech HaOchel ("Fare Route"). This festival, based on local Arab ethnic fare and traditional dishes brought to Israel by Jewish immigrants, was launched in 1997. Another food-related event is an olive oil festival in the fall.

Although a relative late-comer to the festival scene, Israel is today crisscrossed by a host of festivals local and international in flavor; high-brow and low brow; small gatherings and large extravaganzas; performances in art centers and concert halls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and festivals in exotic settings. Festivals focus on the performing arts, the plastic arts and even the culinary arts. The music festivals that dominate the festival circle are indicative of the countrys diversity.

There are over three dozen music festivals instrumental and vocal, in a host of settings from concert halls and churches to caves and ports. Festivals feature a host of instruments from harps to brass bands to philharmonic orchestras. The music offered is a mixture of secular and religious the latter anything from classical liturgica to gospel. Secular genres range from Renaissance to fringe rock including classical and contemporary, country and jazz, folk and pop music.

Over the past five decades, the festival scene has blossomed and been decentralized geographically and organizationally. A growing role is being played by commercial interests.

While festivals still maintain a close affinity to European culture, the tone and tempo has become de-hegemonized and de-homogenized and thus uniquely Israeli. Over the years older established festivals have become less preoccupied with local culture and more international in both scope and flavor, reflected, for example, in the changes at the Carmiel Dance Festival.

Optimists stress that Israeli culture has become much more "relaxed" feeling less threatened by "other." Pessimists worry that "retreat" from the concept of a monolithic national culture has encouraged insulated genres that focus inward like the Klezmer Festival.

Nevertheless, most would agree that Israeli festivals to date continue to serve as a catalyst for the evolution of local genres particularly in two popular pastimes singing and folkdancing. And there is no question that the Acco Alternative Theater has become an invigorating influence and innovative force in Hebrew theater.

Where are Israeli festivals headed? Festivals everywhere draw their prime audiences from among the local citizenry. Israel with a relatively small population does not have an "unlimited market" of potential festival-goers; in fact, the scope and variety witnessed today is quite impressive. Some observers believe that Israel, in its Jubilee year, is approaching a saturation point on the festival scene.

Will Israeli festivals develop a more Mediterranean flavor as witnessed in its pop music? Will creeping commercialism lead to more conservative programs as many fear? Will openness to international currents undermine the singularity of Israeli culture or enrich it? Only time will tell. What is certain is that festivals as a phenomenon are here to stay in a big way.



 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  Hebrew Book Week

Hebrew Book Week is not a festival in the orthodox sense but it is also far more than the run-of-the-mill book fair. In scope, duration and attendance the event is unprecedented a "country-wide cultural carnival." The Book Publishers Association organizes book fairs in 15 cities and 15 towns: the biggest, in Tel Aviv, displays exhibits of 120 publishers and attracts half a million visitors. A survey by Gallup showed that 45% of the population participates in Hebrew Book Week.

The first of a number of book fairs was held in 1926 along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv the city that proclaimed itself to be the citadel of Zionist-Hebrew culture. Yearly fairs offering books at 25% off list price were instituted in 1961.

The week to ten-day spring affair reflects Israels stature as a literary "superpower" producing some 4000 new titles and selling 13 million Hebrew books annually placing Israel among the top ten countries, worldwide, in per capita book sales.

The fair was organized to combat limited shelf-life in the book trade and to expose the full range of new titles that conventional book stores cannot possibly carry, not to mention display. Despite the incursion of cable TV and Internet that brought a temporary drop in sales some years ago, business is again "back to normal" with original works of Hebrew belle lettres not lighter fare one of the most popular subjects.

Ein Gev Festival

The first Ein Gev Festival held during the week of Passover in 1943 featured kibbutz members in recital and hosted chamber ensembles of the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra (later the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), which was founded in 1936 in the wake of an influx of German Jewish musicians fleeing Nazi Germany. In 1954, Kibbutz Ein Gev inaugurated a spacious hall with a stage that was acoustically advanced for its time. The new annual week-long Ein Gev Festival brought high culture to the periphery; over the years, the program broadened encompassing prestigious guest musicians from abroad and other genres such as ballet and folklore to attract audiences changing tastes. In recent years the festival has assumed a more international flavor, as two or three of the ten programs present groups from abroad. Yet, as the expectations of music patrons regarding the quality of acoustics have risen, Ein Gevs stature in music circles has slipped, prompting the kibbutz to begin staging some programs in the open air on a picturesque promenade overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The Dalia Dance Festival

The first gathering of a festival nature the 1944 folk dance event at Kibbutz Dalia combined aspects of a festival with that of a convention and competition..

During Passover 1944, a group of 200 folk dancers set up tents near Kibbutz Dalia on Mount Carmel, and engaged in two days and two nights of trading dances that culminated in a gala performance before an enthused audience of 3,500 in a makeshift open-air amphitheater. The event led to five more Dalia Dance Festivals in 1947 just before independence, and in 1951, 1958, 1963 and 1968. Each troupe choreographed dances according to themes chosen by the festival organizers, staging a gala finale of the best dances before a large audience of folk dance enthusiasts.

The 1947 festival took place at the time of a country-wide nighttime curfew imposed by the British authorities which led, as a protest, to an impromptu all-night performance by all the troupes. The 1951 festival took place under economic austerity that forced many dancers to use part of their clothing coupons for the purchase of dance costumes.

By 1958, the festival had grown into a three-day festival that brought together folkdance troupes to perform and demonstrate new steps. Encompassing 2,000 dancers and an enthusiastic audience estimated at 50,000-60,000, the 1958 Dalia Dance Festival was one of the highlights organized in honor of Israels 10th Independence Day. The last Dalia Festival took place ten years later as part of Israels 20th Independence Day celebrations.

Over the years, the Dalia festival brought together a rich tapestry of ethnic genres Jewish, Arab and Druze. It has served as a crucible for the formulation of Israeli folk dancing still a popular form of entertainment.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

Singers form around the world at the biennial Zimriya choral song festival

  The Zimriya Choral Song Festival

The Zimriya Choral Song Festival, initiated in 1952 with the blessing of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, was designed to nurture composition and singing of Jewish and Hebrew choir music. The festival was viewed at the time as an avenue for salvaging Jewish musical culture in the Diaspora and increasing tourism.

The first Zimriya billed as "a Jewish choral Olympics" was designed to bond the participants from abroad to Israel through the singing of Jewish and Hebrew compositions and to encourage their immigration. The 1952 Zimriya attracted two thousand participants who slept on the floor in school classrooms and gathered at the Ramat Gan Stadium to sing the Biblical prophesy Vekibatsti Etchem ("And I shall gather you up [from among the nations.]"), composed especially for the occasion by Haim Alexander. The second Zimriya was staged in what is today the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv at the time, still under construction and lacking a roof.

In 1961, the triennial festival was transformed into a general musical event rather than a Jewish one; today not only Mendelssohns Elijah and Naomi Shemers Jerusalem of Gold, but also Bach cantatas and even Handels Messiah are performed. The Zimriya has been transformed into an international gathering of some 40 choir groups from over 20 countries and 1,200 participants. Only a third of the choirs are Israeli and most of the foreign participants are non-Jews. The ten-day August festival blends workshops with famous conductors, in-house performances of choirs, and a series of performances in Jerusalem and throughout the country.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The International Harp Competition

The first International Harp Competition held in 1959 though not strictly a festival was motivated by the desire to seek cultural links with the past.

At the time, there were no international harp competitions. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion believed it appropriate to "appropriate" the ancient instrument as a fitting event for the Jewish State although the motif of King David playing the harp, popularized in Renaissance paintings, was historically incorrect. David played the violin another ancient instrument not a harp…

The triennial competition, open to harpists up to the age of 35, has become one of the worlds most prestigious first prize being a concert harp, a concert in Israel and a New York recital.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The Israel Festival

This festival the best-known and most prestigious of all Israeli festivals was inaugurated in 1961. This was the first arts festival of international proportions both in terms of funding and programming. Theater, music and dance programs, mostly from abroad and at a high level, were performed. It was designed as THE arts festival of Israel in the sense that Edinburgh and Salzburg have become symbols.

Originally staged at Caesarias Roman amphitheater as a summer festival, it was later expanded to locations all over the country, with major performances staged in Tel Aviv, at the time the only city with halls capable of major productions and containing a mass seating capability. In 1982 the three-week May-June Israel Festival was moved to Jerusalem and merged with the highly-successful local "Jerusalem Spring Festival." Today, the Israel Festival is, in essence, a Jerusalem festival in everything but name. Expectations in the sixties that the Israel Festival would become a tourist attraction like Salzburg have not materialized. Critics note that part of the weakness is that the Israel Festival to this day remains a festival that primarily concentrates on "consumption of existing culture" mostly imported and not enough on "creating culture" by staging new works.

Today, the Israel Festival stages 40-50 events in the capital at various historical sites, with the main venue being the Jerusalem Center for the Performing Arts augmented by a host of street performances of music and light entertainment throughout the city.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The International Jerusalem Book Fair

The biennial Jerusalem Book Fair, inaugurated in 1963, is a trade-oriented event for publishers from around the globe. The 1963 fair attracted 820 publishing houses from 22 countries, and provided 1,130 square meters for display. Today the fair has become a major international event with over 40 countries participating. Displays cover over 7000 square meters and public attendance has reached 60,000. Among the fairs traditional highlights are the announcement of the awarding of the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature and a special prize of the Israel Export Institute for the most beautiful book.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The Acco Fringe Theater Festival

The Acco festival inaugurated in 1980 and modeled after Edinburghs Fringe Festival was the first major festival which was not located in a major city. Acco possessed a promising backdrop a quaint fishing port and the medieval setting of mammoth arched stone walls dating from the Crusader period yet the citys image was lackluster.

Designed to present special productions only during the festival, but it has since become a staging area, with the best shows going on to be performed in major cities. Within less than two decades, the Acco Fringe Theater Festival has become a major force in Israeli theater mounting 30 productions by repertory theaters, drama schools and established companies, and attracting some 200,000 visitors annually.

Productions are mounted in some 25 halls ancient and modern, with a host of street performances in alleys and cafes, against the backdrop of archeological excavations and even off a floating stage on a yacht in Accos quaint harbor.

The Arad Hebrew Song Festival

Launched in 1983, the Arad festival, one of the first to follow in the footsteps of the Acco festival, began as a popular song festival geared to groups of song enthusiasts who met regularly to sing Hebrew folk songs in unison and in harmony. An activity that is not as polished as a choir, not as informal as a sing-along, these groups are perhaps best described as the Israeli equivalent of an enlarged barbershop quartet. The social aspect is as much at the core of the experience as the singing or the songs themselves.

The repertoire presented at the Hebrew Song Festival is of a uniquely Israeli genre termed shirei Eretz Yisrael (Songs of the Land of Israel) more lyric and melodic than "folk music" and more low-brow than choral music. The festival provides an opportunity to present new material and new arrangements of old favorites, and appear before a mass audience of avid song enthusiasts. In recent years, however, the Arad Festival has been transformed by growing commercialism into an event dominated primarily by professional Hebrew vocalists of Israeli pop and rock although performances devoted to shirei Eretz Israel are also included. While Israeli pop also has a strong lyrical bent, the change has lowered the age of most festival-goers considerably, in the direction of mid- to late teens.

Calls to try and shift the balance back in favor of the original tempo and tone have been raised.

Chamber Music Days

Chamber Music Days in Kibbutz Kfar Blum was conceived and organized by the Israel Broadcasting Authoritys classical music station and the Upper Galilee Regional Council in 1985. Held during the last two weeks of July, it serves as a meeting ground for musicians as well as a venue for concerts.

While designed to present original works as well as old favorites, critics says that over the years the Kfar Blum Festival like other festivals in Israel has become a commercial venture, based on conservative programming geared to please audiences rather than to provide a platform for innovative pieces.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The Red Sea Jazz Festival

The annual festival, staged in Eilat, overlooking the Red Sea and the mountains of Edom, has grown from a small-scale event for jazz buffs started in 1987 to a major four-day jazz festival drawing thousands to the 36-40 performances, including some 20-22 by overseas artists. The festival has become a major force on the local music scene a catalyst for composition of new pieces by Israeli jazz musicians and a source of inspiration, cultural cross-fertilization and the development of a local jazz tradition, while also placing jazz in the cultural mainstream despite the location of the festival far from Israels cultural center.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  Carmiel Dance Festival

The three-day festival inaugurated in 1988 is held annually in early July in a 25,000-seat open amphitheater built especially for it outside the city of Carmiel a development town east of Acco in the Western Galilee. The theater is augmented by halls and open-air venues in the vicinity.

Heir to the Dalia Dance Festival, the first Carmiel Festival attracted 50 troupes most of them Israeli. In the past decade Carmiel has taken on an international and universal flavor with 100 professional dance troupes from all around the world participating, and a program dedicated not only to folk dancing and ethnic culture but to all types of dance from classical to ultra-modern including creative roller-skating.

The events prestige in international folkdance circles is growing. At the beginning, festival organizers paid the way of foreign troupes; today, leading groups compete for an invitation to perform.

The festival continues to act as a catalyst for Israeli choreographers and a vehicle for teaching new dances. The festival offers master classes, workshops and symposia of artists and audience, together with a rich program of some 70 evening performances which attract 200,000 people who come not only to see the professional groups perform but also to participate in folkdancing through the night at ten locations around the city.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  The Jerusalem International Film Festival

The festival which today attracts 50,000 visitors had humble origins: The first local film clubs founded in the mid-fifties boasted a membership of 200, screening 14 films a year. The spread of a "cinema culture" despite the modest scope of local film making (a dozen films a year) led to the appearance of cinematheques in the main cities in the early seventies. By the mid-eighties Israel was ready for a genuine film festival. The festival, established in 1984, was a natural step after the founding of the Jerusalem Film Center Archive three years earlier. Both enjoy the support of local film patrons and the Jerusalem Foundation.

While Cannes and Berlin bring together up to twenty thousand cinema professionals, the Jerusalem International Film Festival is a much smaller affair; with about 100 leading personalities from abroad, it is a forum that enables professionals and audiences from different cultures and perspectives to actually mingle and discuss cinema. The week-long July program offers 170 films from 50 countries covering a broad spectrum of themes and categories, including the best of new cinema and outstanding documentaries; avant garde; short subjects; animation; retrospectives; classics and restorations; and Mediterranean and Israeli cinema. During the festival two prizes are awarded: one for the best film on a Jewish theme and the "In the Spirit of Freedom" award given to the film that best furthers tolerance in the world.

Photography in the Jezreel Valley

One of the relative newcomers to the Israeli art festival scene is photography. In 1986 the Ein Harod Museum of Art launched a triennial event held during the week-long fall festival of Sukkot designed for "double exposure": to provide Israelis with exposure to international photography and provide local photographers with public exposure through workshops, symposia and exhibitions. The fourth Israel Photography Triennial is scheduled for Israels Jubilee Year.

The Jerusalem International Judaica Fair

The Jerusalem International Judaica Fair was launched in 1986, a joint venture of an agency of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israeli branch of Sothebys. Until then, the centers for Jewish art were in Prague, London and New York, serving a global market for antique and contemporary Judaica estimated at tens of millions of dollars per annum.

Today, the five-day gathering, held every two years in Jerusalem several days after Israels Independence Day in May, hosts some 130 Jewish artisans from various disciplines, and attracts some 18,000 visitors. The event not only shifted focus for Judaica collectors to Israel, but serves as both a showcase and a catalyst for Israeli craftsmanship.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel


The Safed Klezmer Festival

The festival dedicated to Jewish "soul music" is based on melodies performed by instrumental groups at traditional Jewish celebrations. This music genre klezmer in Yiddish, stemming from the Hebrew klei-zemer (musical instruments), has recently enjoyed a revival.

The festival was launched in 1988 as part of the effort to shift the festival scene from the large cities to the periphery, and to serve as a vehicle for enhancing Safeds image and bolster local business.

The festival in Safed, a city renowned as the seat of Jewish mysticism boasts over a hundred performances. Most including a soloist who plays jazz on a shofer (rams horn) are street performances in the narrow winding alleys and courtyards of Safeds picturesque artists quarter. Others are professional performances of vocalists and musicians offering programs with a Hassidic twist.

The festival appeals to a mixed audience of some 10,000-15,000 festival-goers; in recent years the Safed Klezmer Festival has gained the image of being a "Jewish Woodstock" attracting both religious and non-observant young people.

The Safed Klezmer Festival

The festival dedicated to Jewish "soul music" is based on melodies performed by instrumental groups at traditional Jewish celebrations. This music genre klezmer in Yiddish, stemming from the Hebrew klei-zemer (musical instruments), has recently enjoyed a revival.

The festival was launched in 1988 as part of the effort to shift the festival scene from the large cities to the periphery, and to serve as a vehicle for enhancing Safeds image and bolster local business.

The festival in Safed, a city renowned as the seat of Jewish mysticism boasts over a hundred performances. Most including a soloist who plays jazz on a shofer (rams horn) are street performances in the narrow winding alleys and courtyards of Safeds picturesque artists quarter. Others are professional performances of vocalists and musicians offering programs with a Hassidic twist.

The festival appeals to a mixed audience of some 10,000-15,000 festival-goers; in recent years the Safed Klezmer Festival has gained the image of being a "Jewish Woodstock" attracting both religious and non-observant young people.

The Abu Gosh Music Festival

The festival presents a predominantly liturgical repertoire laced with a variety of music from the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The first Abu Gosh Festival, launched by the head of the Benedictine monastery in 1957, succeeded in bringing to Israel renowned ensembles and soloists a rarity for the time. The event was discontinued in 1971 and resurrected only in 1992.

Today three and four-day festivals held during the Sukkot and Shavuot holidays bill a program of Israeli orchestras performing with leading choirs from abroad. The festival takes place in the Crusader church of the Benedictine Monastery and in the Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church (built in the early 1920s). Both venues provide excellent acoustics and a special atmosphere that attracts thousands of music lovers particularly Jerusalemites living ten minutes away. The program is augmented by street performances and other musical events in the groves and gardens of the monastery.

The 1000 Caves Festival

This festival, in Bet Guvrin a national park in the south dotted by natural and man-made chalkstone caves dating back to Biblical times was inaugurated in 1994. It hosts ensembles of various size, from a pair of musicians entertaining a small crowd in an ancient water cistern to performances for an audience of 700 in a huge bell-shaped man-made cave. Some special music scores especially written for the unique acoustic quality of the somewhat unorthodox venue are performed.

Unfortunately, danger of a cave-in one of the main caves has caused temporary cancellation of the unique event at least for 1998.

Jaffa Nights

The three-to-four-day Jaffa Nights Festival has more the flavor of a fanciful happening than an organized festival. The music/drama/street entertainment combination that characterizes the Israel Festival is "copied" here on a less high-brow and more commercial level.

Every July the Old Jaffa Artists Quarter is closed to vehicles and turned into a series of make-shift stages, erected in the posh Quarters squares, piazzas and alleyways, offering a mixed bag of free rock, classical and jazz concerts. Special productions of music, theater, dance and the plastic arts attract audiences of all ages and all socioeconomic groups.    


 Festivals and Fairs in Israel
 Festivals and Fairs in Israel

  International Poets Festival

Since its founding in 1990, the festival in a country that buys more poetry volumes per capita annually than any other nation in the world has brought together over two dozen leading poets from abroad with an equal number of leading Israeli poets. The five-day festival, held biannually in Jerusalem, provides a host of lectures and workshops, as well as poetry readings open to the general public.

Poems by guests from abroad are recited in the original and in Hebrew translations by local poets.

Reflecting the times, the festival has provided a stage not only for Hebrew poetry but also for poetry in English, Russian and French written by immigrant poets. The Festival publishes, together with the publishing house of a leading daily, a large Hebrew-language and English-version anthology of poetry of foreign and local poets invited to participate.