It’s not a common site in Jerusalem to see a colorful audience of over
650 Sephardim, Ashkenazim, religious and secular sitting together
peacefully and riveted by the same performance. This was the scene on
Tuesday night at the Ahavat Olamim (Eternal Love) Concert at the Gerard
Behar Center, part of the Piyyut Festival.
The festival, which
ends tonight, celebrates Jewish music and piyyutim (liturgical poems
included in the services on Shabbat and holidays in addition to the
established prayers) from all over the world, ancient and contemporary.
In its fourth consecutive year, the Piyyut festival offers something
unique and yet obvious to the Jerusalem cultural landscape. “Jerusalem
is the piyyut capital of the world; it’s absurd that the festival never
happened sooner,” says Yair Harel, artistic director of the festival.
festival aims at striking a balance between traditional and
contemporary. “It’s not just about preserving traditions. The music is a
living tradition, and the festival is not a museum,” says Harel.
The festival makes a tremendous contribution to Israeli and Jewish
society and opens a gate to a much wider approach to Jewish identity.
Rather than look to create a uniform ‘new Israeli’ voice and neglect the
varying traditions, Harel and those behind the festival believe in
integrating, continuing and weaving in the traditions into a new Israeli
identity. This year’s festival brings all sectors of society together
as well as Jewish and Muslim culture. “Without tradition, Israeli
identity would be hollow. The connection gives strength and meaning
through the experience of music,” says Harel. “Music has the profound
ability to break down borders, and bring people together through a
shared love of the medium. It is a place where people can meet”.
Tonight includes a special performance by Nino Biton, a master of the
Andalusian genre of music. He will be performing in collaboration with
many of his students in honor of his long-awaited debut album. This will
be followed by Piyyut & Roll featuring contemporary performers Alma
Zohar, Efrat Gosh, and Ilan Damri. The festival ends with a massive
The Piyyut festival is set to become an annual much-loved Jerusalem
tradition. “There has been so much joy during this project,” says Harel.
“Many of the performers would not have believed they would be
performing on stage with a Moroccan Rabbi; they simply did not see it as
part of their world. The festival created this possibility and opened
things up. Some go to the east to find meaning, but it is here and they
just don’t see it”.
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