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Jerusalem - some might say - like Marmite, is one of those things you either love or loathe. Well, maybe "loathe" is putting it a bit strongly, but it is no secret that many Tel Avivians and other residents of our Coastal Plain need a very good reason for making the trek up the Castel to the capital.
Despite, for the aforementioned Israelis, the possibly of off-putting seasonal cool weather, there are numerous reasons for coming to Jerusalem over the coming weeks. For the next three weekends, the annual Hamshushalayim will host dozens of enticing events that run the gamut of musical, artistic, theatrical, educational, sightseeing and other cultural activities.
There will be tours around the Old City and other parts of Jerusalem, free or for a token fee; arts and crafts fairs; a culinary festival with a wide range of dishes and cuisines - and all at knock-down prices, heavily discounted meals at restaurants throughout the city, concerts, theater performances and special hotel package deals.
"We attach great importance to bringing people to Jerusalem and keeping them here overnight - or even over several nights," says Ilanit Melchior, tourism director for the Jerusalem Development Authority. "We're offering lots of incentives to people from the North and South of the country to come and stay here for a few days." Â
Now in its fifth year, Hamshushalayim appears to be doing good business for the capital. Melchior says the hotel bookings are flooding in. "So far we've had over 1,000 hotel reservations. In plain terms that means income of NIS 700,000 coming into Jerusalem. That's serious money. Just yesterday a woman called the Caesar Hotel and booked 25 rooms for her family and friends."
The woman in question and her family have, no doubt, browsed through the Hamshushalayim information booklet, which makes for impressive reading. For instance, there will be shows and exhibitions - mostly with free admission - at the Israel Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, the Islamic Museum, David's Tower, Beit Avi Chai, the Yellow Submarine and the Science Museum to mention but a few. The latter venue will host an intriguing video presentation entitled Junction by French artist Judith D'Armont, who is coming here at the behest of the Romain Gary French Cultural Center.
Above all, Melchior is keen to show the rest of the country the added ethnic value offered by the capital. "When Mayor Nir Barkat took office, he talked about targeting youngsters and tourism," she says. "There will be plenty of things for young people to enjoy during Hamshushalayim, such as special discounts at bars around town, and restaurants will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. But we also want visitors to get something of the unique Jerusalem ambiance so, among other events, we're having a tish every Friday night at the Great Synagogue. More than 200 people have already booked for this Friday night."
Hamshushalayim organizers are also looking to show non-Jerusalemites that the capital has a wealth of cultural institutions with top-class entertainment to offer. The Psik Theater, which has been running since 1996, will be holding the premiere of its new production The Jerusalem Comedy at the Jerusalem Theater on December 3 at 8:30 p.m.
The Jerusalem Comedy tells the story of an archsecular theater and a nearby haredi yeshiva that have a hard time sharing the same neighborhood. While the anti-religious theater director and the rebbetzin have a go at each other, all sorts of subplots evolve. Psik founde member Assi Shimony says the play's vignettes are designed to shed light on areas of life in Israel in general, and in particular in Jerusalem, and hopefully to shatter some preconceptions.
"This has nothing to do with recent events surrounding Intel," says Shimony. "We've been working very hard on the production for over a year. Anyway, we're not looking to exacerbate the situation; we want to bring people from all religious and secular camps closer together. It's easy to take pot shots at each other and to go for the lowest common denominator, but that's not what Psik and the play are about." Â
The hoped-for eye opener, says Shimony, is something he experiences every day. "I live in Tzur Hadassah and I take buses that are also used by religious people from Betar Illit. Lots of secular Israelis relate to religious people with suspicion or in a one-dimensional way. But these people have a life, families, everyday events they have to deal with, talents and fun. There's so much more color to all of that than just commonly held monochrome views. We have to get past that, all of us." Â
Shimony adds that he and the rest of the Psik crew did their best to circumvent the political minefield. "There are no provocations in the play, and all the humor is clean. There's no black humor in there. That would have been the easy route to follow - to take a sort of stand-up comedy, jibe line. But I don't believe that leads to good things. We've put the production on in neighborhoods around Jerusalem in the last few months, with religious and secular people in the audiences. I can tell you, everyone left the show with a smile on their face. That can go a long way toward helping to get over our mutual stigmas." Â
For more information about the Psik Theater, go to www.psik.org.il or call 050-651-4040. For more information about Hamshushalayim, go to the Jerusalem Municipality Web site: www.jerusalem.muni.il or dial 106.