Fire on the mountain

Last month’s semi-underground DeFrost Jerusalem festival brought a warm breath of sorely-needed culture to the capital.

February 1, 2010 20:59
4 minute read.
Anat Elberg's 'My Life in Switzerland, Ongoingly'.

life in switzerland 311. (photo credit: Yifa Yaakov)


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Cheery, well-dressed young men and women milling about on sidewalks. Packed venues hosting rising talents. Labyrinthine corridors filled with paintings, photographs, ceramics and more. Hot apple cider and mulled wine served at booths throughout the city. Student films screened one after the other, their intrepid themes and brilliant visuals assaulting an audience of curious locals and film aficionados alike.

Can you imagine Jerusalem this way?

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A group of enterprising young people could, and made it a reality.

The two-day DeFrost Jerusalem festival, which took place last month, was truly a one-of-a-kind endeavor – it sure isn’t easy to turn the capital, with its poverty, tension and violent, deeply religious history, into a hub of student culture and nightlife.

The event was organized by Awakening in Jerusalem, which aims to stem the flow of young people out of the capital and halt the gradual deterioration of one of the most beautiful – and neglected – cities in the country.

DeFrost’s program was jam-packed with top DJs, hip-hop shows, art expos, theater events, film screenings, poetry readings, workshops, a small-scale music festival and even a garden party at an old Rehavia graveyard.

While the graveside party was cancelled due to disagreeable weather, everything else went as planned.

At the covered market on Rehov Agripas, crowds moved from gallery to gallery as DJs spun funky tunes on a platform at the end of the hall. Eye-catching photographs of all sizes graced the walls. In Anat Elberg’s My Life In Switzerland, Ongoingly, a photo of a young woman standing in peculiar garb and shouting hung alongside an image of nuns gathering flowers on a mountainside; one of the nuns points to the right, giving the impression that she’s pointing her finger at the hollering woman just beyond the frame.

Many of the exhibits were not only creative, but also interactive. One booth, manned by a clothes seamstress, lured women in with the promise of a custom-made shirt. At another booth, one could have a portrait drawn in 15 minutes. One could talk to the artists, ask them questions, share a smile over their original designs.

Two brave artists donned their creations themselves. In Yasmin Wollek’s Sewing: Gauze and Bells, cloudy swaths of soft white fabric were wound around the artist’s head and body, cocoon-like, while she sat there with a serene expression on her face. The material came down in tassels past her knees, each asymmetrical end adorned with a small silver bell. Her companion, Lior Charchy, stood tall and limp in a constricting epaulet and a tie which snaked down his back to become a belt, in a work titled Camouflage in the Urban.

FOR TWO chilly winter nights, fine art came alive in Jerusalem. But so did film, music and poetry.

As I sank into my padded seat at The Lab and watched short student films, I couldn’t help but compare the schools to one another. Shorts by Sam Spiegel graduates seemed to be technically impeccable. However, the films that I saw also featured gloomy piano soundtracks and an overall alienated feel. They ended abruptly, distressingly, without closure.

More refreshing to watch were Musrara’s animated creations, which combined cheerful soundtracks and hand-drawn imagery with funny storylines to draw many a smile from the audience.

As the evening progressed, many venues in the city opened their doors for yet more exciting events. Fans of poetry crowded into cozy soup joint Hamarakiya to listen to acclaimed authors and translators – staples of the Jerusalem writing scene – such as theater professor Michal Govrin and Jewish mysticism researcher Prof. Yehuda Liebes. The inclusion of Tel Aviv waiter-turned-satirical-songwriter Avi Adaki in the lineup added a refreshing musical twist to the evening.

At the Uganda, Austrian rockers Valina were set to play after a short performance by locals Weird Chicken, whose bruising, fast-paced rendition of Low’s anti-war anthem “Breaker” set the mood for the main event.

As Valina took the stage, I was surprised at how un-European they were – three natives of Linz, Austria playing angry American underground rock in the vein of Shellac and more mainstream US pop-punk bands.

All too soon, the show ended and it was time to check out the open mic evening at the Taklit, where fringe artists put on individual eight-minute shows. As I watched, one actor shaved his beard right there on the makeshift stage while reading a monologue about his relationship with a girl, stormy music playing in the background.

At the adjacent Hakatze and Tuvya bars, meanwhile, a mini music festival was taking place, curated by the organizers of In-D-Negev, an event which annually brings Israel’s leading indie artists to an open field south of Ofakim.

Aside from the organized events, many Jerusalemites were invited to share their wares and creations with the public – food, drink, graffiti art, clothing and more. Aspiring cooks issued open invitations to their homes for a kibble, but not before hosting elaborate pre-organized “guerrilla meals.”

Although some of the events at DeFrost ended after a day or two, they left a deep impression: it was a far cry from the usual demeanor of the city, where things sometimes seem impossible to change. The thirst of artists for exposure and young Jerusalmites for nightlife, music and art seemed suddenly boundless.

Don’t be fooled – beneath its stony exterior, Jerusalem is slowly coming in from the cold.

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