Introduction

While Tel Aviv is undeniably the cultural capitol of Israel, I went on a quest to bring you a few samples of artistic and cultural manifestations from the city on the hills. What I found is a place bustling with creative energy! Many of the cultural events are no different than those offered elsewhere, but some are distinctly Jerusalemite. What struck me most profoundly were the improbable contrasts possible only here – a city both ancient and contemporary, metropolis and shtetl, religious and secular. I have gathered here a few tastings of a varied menu that I sampled myself. Enjoy!

Architecture

The Strings Bridge

Upon entering Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you encounter the first of many improbable contrasts – The Strings Bridge, the city’s newest landmark. It is a visually striking structure, designed by award-winning architect Santiago Calatrava, which supports a light-rail train. Situated next to the central bus station and numerous old apartment buildings, it was difficult to find a good angle for a photogenic shot of this magnificent structure. However, the moment presented itself with a Hasidic Jew crossing under the bridge, and I finally got a great image.

Performance Arts

Jerusalem Season of Culture

Each summer, from May through September, Jerusalem plays host to a series of original productions that span and integrate the worlds of dance, visual art, music, performance, literature, philosophy, and everything in between.

The 7th Beggar – The Ka’et Ensemble

I attended the In-House Festival, a festival of theater, dance, and music in the houses of Jerusalem. I chose The 7th Beggar performed by The Ka’et Ensemble, whose haredi members seek to fuse their love of Torah with their love for contemporary dance. The all-male troupe performance took place in a small Rechavia neighborhood synagogue to a sold-out crowd of 60. We were ushered in together at exactly 9pm to a space already “in performance” with one of the dancers chanting prayers in a traditional Yemenite fashion. Seated on simple chairs we watched seven dancers perform three dynamic pieces. My spirit was slowly ushered in as the evening progressed and I had to remind myself that these are not dancers dressed as Haredi Jews, but the real thing. The performance was followed by Hevrutah discussions in 4 groups. Moderated by Rabbi Vardi, of Ma’aleh School of Film, we discussed written and unwritten text and heard from several of the dancers about their experiences. One of the challenges this fascinating and creative troupe is facing is acceptance from both the religious sector and from mainstream modern dance companies.

Ka'et in the New York Times

Visual Arts

A World Apart Next Door-Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews

At the Israel Museum, an exhibition that examines the history, traditions, life style and fashion of Hasidic Jews. The crowd exploring the exhibit was as diverse as the Jerusalem human landscape. Besides many secular people who have limited knowledge of the Hasidic world, I observed two Haredi boys watching a video about the significance of different hat styles and the industry producing them, and a Chabad (Hasidic) couple discussing a photo – perhaps not the usual suspects in an art museum. 

Good Night

Each summer the Youth and Art Education Wing features an exhibition catering especially for children and their families. Summer camp and activities for children revolve around the exhibit and use the theme as well as other exhibitions in the museum as a jumping board for artistic expression.

Individual works can be seen at the Israel Museum Jerusalem web site. 

The page is in Hebrew but click on the works at the bottom of the page to see individual works. If you read Hebrew you can read the exhibit catalogue’s rationale by curator Kobi Ben-Meir.

 

Photos: Dina Shenhav/The Bed’s Dream and the resulting work of art created by the children at summer camp.

Poetry

Jerusalem Poetry Festival Meter Al Meter (One Square Meter)

The Revolution Drummer

Set in the Botanical Garden, overlooking a small lake, the outdoor three-day festival highlights poetry, poets, music and art. I attended opening night which culminated in “The Revolution Drummer” a rock concert honoring poet Ronny Someck on his 60’s birthday. The musicians’ lineup included Hanan Ben Simon, Efrat Gosh, Yahli Sobol, Eran Tzur and Hemi Rodner. According to Hai Meirzadh, who composed all the songs especially for this evening, his collaboration with Ronny Someck was supported by the festival organizers and meant to provide a bridge to poetry for a wider audience. Poetry can rock!

Hebrew Alphabet Mashrabiya – An Art Installation

(By Dana Chermesh danachermesh@gmail.com

Text, as we are used to experience it, is a collection of words that creates meaning in our minds. The “Alphabet Mashrabiya” examines the text from an architectural point of view and places it under a specific set of rules such as: construction, changing opacity, shading, boundaries etc. The text’s readability is set aside for constructive principles, making it the designer of a new emotional, spatial experience, free of literal interpretation. The work was designed and produced by digital tools. The exhibit text is taken from  “Songs of Songs” chapters 2-4. 

The festival’s organizers commissioned Dana Chermesh to create a site-specific installation based on a previous Mashrabiya she produced as a student in the School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University.

The talented young artist installed her creation outdoors maximizing its potential by relying on the changing light and the play of shadows. Chermesh says that her interest in the Hebrew language and Hebrew typography dates back to her youth when she created a Hebrew font at age 16. She sees the play between the Hebrew alphabet and a spatial experience as poetic. 

Mashrabiya is a distinctive type of woodcarving mainly used for windows, which allows cool breezes to enter homes in the heat of summer, while allowing the inhabitants privacy. It is an element typical in Islamic architecture and popular in Arab countries.

 

Food and Folklore

Mahneh Yehuda Market and Azura Restaurant

I concluded my Jerusalem visit with a culinary experience at the best market in Israel – Mahneh Yehuda. The market enjoyed a real renaissance in the last few years boasting new eateries, bars, boutiques and specialty stores. But instead of sampling the new upscale digs, I went for well-tested comfort at the Azura restaurant. Serving Kurdish, Iraqi and Sephardic dishes, the place is always full of happy diners. My favorite meal there includes marak kubeh (kubeh soup) with a variety of salads.

Background on the market 

On the wall, across the small square where Azura is situated, is a poem written by Yossi Banai about the place: 

 
 
 
 

At the restaurant of Azura

In the small market behind the large market

I saw in the kitchen, in pots over kerosene flames

Many longings looking for some warmth over a small fire

And all the smells of potatoes, rice

And spinach patties

That permeated my nostrils

Brought back, for a moment,

My mother…

It was a most delicious and enjoyable way to end the quest for the cultural experiences Jerusalem has to offer!

And I haven’t even started telling you about the Jerusalem International Film Festival…

Thank you Dana Chermesh and Hai Meirzadh for sharing with me your process and thoughts as artists.