Approximately 10,000 people gathered in the Amphitheater in Ra'anana Park Monday evening, to soak up the Jewish Eastern European sounds of old, at the city's 16th annual Klezmer festival. The diverse musicians and audience gave the evening a colorful dimension, symbolic of the city itself - long a haven for many immigrants.
"This is a musical experience that unites the audience, despite the differences in age and backgrounds," said Zvi Kenig, member of the City Management and Head of the Informal Education Administration, who initiated the festival back in 1989.
"Klezmer is the music that many people grew up hearing in their parents' home," he said. "And it's a part of Jewish culture. You can hear it in the prayers, and it also goes beyond the different Jewish-religious denominations. Whether one is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or secular, all of these people can be united and enjoy."
To maintain the theme of unity and to prevent any divisiveness in preparing the event this summer, the festival - usually held the last week of August shortly after Tisha Be'av - was postponed so as not to coincide with both the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, as well as the city mayoral elections.
To signify the close of election debate and divisiveness, the evening featured consecutive speeches from newly-elected mayor Nahum Hofri, his electoral opponent and former deputy mayor Uzi Cohen, as well as previous mayor and current head of the Jewish Agency Ze'ev Bielski.
The speeches were filled with compliments for each other and the city as well as the festival. Bielski said that the Klezmer festival, "more than any other event, symbolizes the unity of Ra'anana." Hofri even joined in the festivities by playing a bit of music on his own on his clarinet, delighting the crowd.
The festival was presented by the Adult Education Department of the Ra'anana Municipality's Informal Education Administration, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the Torah Culture Division of the Tel Aviv and Central Districts. Kenig said that dozens of people are actively involved in the preparations for the festival each year.
The thousands who came to partake in what has now become a traditional Ra'anana summer event seemed to gleefully enjoy the music and the park atmosphere, despite it being a slightly humid evening. Sherri Cizin, who came to the event for the third time, said what makes it so special is the combination of its musical aspect with what it does for the city itself.
"We love klezmer music," she said. "It really has had such a rebirth in recent years, and it doesn't feel like something old anymore, but it's great to be here now. It's a celebration of Jewish music. Also, this concert is so typical of Ra'anana. To be in the park, by the amphitheater, to have during the summer here all different types of music - classical, opera, klezmer - it's really great."
That enthusiasm for the festival has clearly grown over the years. Kenig said that back in 1989, he decided to attempt to add a cultural event to the city that could unite the city's diverse community, as well as bring an audience from all over the country.
In the first years the small festival was held in the courtyard of Yad L'Banim, but as the event grew in people, it moved to the amphitheater in Ra'anana park. While about 1,000 showed up in the first few years, about 10,000 or so now attend.
"We're obviously not the only festival of this type in Israel," said Kenig.
"The one in Safed is clearly very well-known, for me the idea was to add klezmer music to the Sharon region, so that people would come and see and listen to the music, to rejoice and enjoy. Through the festival, Ra'anana has created a well-known event, bringing people from throughout the country. It adds to the city music, culture, lots of people, and it also boosts the economy."
The goal of this year's festival, titled "From Generation to Generation," was for the performances to combine the musicianship of both young and old.
Dov Zilberman (clarinet), together with his mother Ita (accordion), interpreted a melody introduced as the "Meron Niggun," played traditionally at midnight on Lag Ba'omer at the grave of kabbalist Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Three generations of the Elyav family - father, children, and grandchildren - gave a tremendously exciting performance, drawing perhaps the loudest audience ovation of the evening. The various percussion instruments, violin, and accordion combined the sounds of Bukharan with the Ashkenazic sounds of Eastern Europe.
Other performances included those by the children's dance troupe Kinderlach, an almost boy-band take on the Klezmer tradition, Auf Simchas, which played the familiar notes of "Fiddler on the Roof," and the Israel Police Orchestra with soloist Bernie Marinbach (clarinet), who remained on stage throughout the evening.
In addition to the klezmer performances, the festival began with a Judaica arts and crafts fair. Booths were set up in the back of the lawn of the amphitheater, and visitors were able to browse and shop for hats, paintings, mezuzot, new year cards, and of course, Jewish music.
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