In a consummate blend of culture and tikkun olam (social activism), Hadag Nachash, Din Din Aviv and Fortysokolov played to a crowd of more than 1,500 residents and Diaspora Jews Wednesday night at the B'shekel Festival in Kiryat Shmona.
Leading Up North, a new project from the Center for Leadership Initiative (CLI), brought more than 500 Diaspora volunteers from 25 countries to Israel to help repaint bomb shelters and clean up forests battered in this summer's Lebanon war. All CLI participants were in Kiryat Shmona to replant trees Wednesday morning and were treated to live performances by Israel's top artists at night.
Volunteer Daniel Pink, a 21-year-old from Halifax, Canada, has been to Israel several times before but called this trip inspirational. "It showed me a side of Israel - the bomb shelters, the burnt forests - they don't teach us about in Hebrew school or Jewish summer camp," he said.
"The Israelis up North felt that no one cared; that after the war was over the Jewish world's sympathy would run dry," Pink added.
Israeli singer Din Din Aviv told The Jerusalem Post that although the B'shekel Festival is integral in its own right, having this year's festival in Kiryat Shmona was important.
"Culture should be for everyone, and that's what B'shekel does - it makes music and art available to all. After the trauma suffered by the North, it's particularly special to have it here this time."
Israelis from Kiryat Shmona and across the country attended the festival, which costs only a shekel admittance.
Yoni Gordis, the director of CLI, was amazed at how much Leading Up North accomplished in its maiden voyage.
"There's a lot of rhetoric about helping the damaged areas in Israel, but our volunteers really followed through with action, with hands-on work. The result was a connection between the Right and the Left, Orthodox and secular, Druse and Jewish that resonated beyond what we thought was possible," said Gordis.
One of the highlights of the night was when B'shekel organizers brought Michelle Citrin, a 25-year-old Leading Up North participant and singer/songwriter from New York City, on stage to play her original music with Israel's top artists.