A collage of culture

The Shirat Hayam Festival attempts to educate Israelis about thousands of years of Jewish heritage.

April 15, 2011 16:17
3 minute read.
Hassidic musician Aharon Razel

Aharon Razel 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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‘When we were establishing this country, we forgot that between King David and David Ben-Gurion there were 2,300 years of tradition,” said David Beitner, artistic director of the Givatayim Theater, which organizes the festival of Jewish music and culture in conjunction with the Givatayim Municipality. “We’re trying to make a collage of more than 2,000 years of rich culture.”

This year’s festival will take place at the Givatayim Theater on April 20 and 21, the Wednesday and Thursday during the week of Pessah, and draws both religious and secular audiences.

“Most of the population, including the religious population, is on holiday, either partially or totally, during Pessah, but you can’t have the festival on the weekend because the religious people cannot attend,” says Beitner.

“Hol hamoed is a time when the religious people can come and be in the same hall as secular people. That’s a very important part of this festival.”

For the first time, the festival, which has in the past included readings of works by Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, will put on a stage adaptation of one of Agnon’s stories. A theatrical version of “Bidmi Yameha” (“In the Prime of Her Life”), written by Michal Ackerman and directed by Yossi Almog, will be performed by the Dionysia Theater Ensemble.

The festival is also screening Micha Shagrir’s documentary film Just Like the Queen of England, which tells the story of David Bergman, the former head of the Beit Zvi School of the Performing Arts in Ramat Gan.

In addition, Anat Zuria’s 2002 documentary about Orthodox sexuality and married life, Purity, will be screened. A panel discussion will follow the showing. “The film is about 10 years old, but we’re doing a follow-up,” says Beitner. “It should be very interesting to see what has happened since it was shown for the first time.”

A hassidic women’s rock band, Ashira, will perform at the festival for female audiences only. Ashira’s booking and the Purity screening are two of the events that emphasize women, a major theme at the festival.

“Every year we try to do something special for women,” says Beitner.

“There is now a feminist trend in religious society, and we give it very special attention.”

Poems inspired by Jewish prayers and written by poets Amir Or, Maya Bejerano, Noa Shakarji, Dr. Gilad Meiri and Ronny Someck will also be read, and some of them will be performed as songs by popular singer Etti Ankri.

The festival will also include a special performance of songs from Ovadia Hamama’s new album Wide Open Spaces, which consists of musical pieces inspired by the works of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Hamama will host Erez Lev Ari and other artists who are featured on the album.

Hassidic musician Aaron Razel will perform with his brother Yonatan, while singer Maimon Cohen will perform works by Israeli composer Shem Tov Levi with Levi’s ensemble. In addition, hassidic musical group Halev Ve’hama’ayan, which was named the best Jewish music ensemble in the world at the International Jewish Music Competition in Amsterdam last year, will perform, and Dr. Avi Elkayam will host a musical symposium on the Kabbala with musician Yair Dalal.

On the academic front, the festival’s lecture series include talks by Dr. Shelley Goldberg on the symbolism behind the crossing of the Red Sea and Amnon Regev on the Kabbala.

Beitner, who came up with the original idea for the festival, takes its objective seriously. “In my view, Judaism is not only the property of the Orthodox – it belongs to all of us. I am very happy to say that today many people, religious and non-religious, are getting closer to Jewish culture.”

More information about the Shirat Hayam Festival and the Givatayim Theater is available at www.t-g.co.il.

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