Once there were very few stores or restaurants, and artists and craftsmen used to open their houses for local villagers for a cup of tea. Most of the tourists were Christian pilgrims who came to see the holy sites. Ein Kerem has a rich history. According to tradition, it is the birthplace of John the Baptist. During the Byzantine era, churches named after him and his family were built throughout the village. And throughout the generations, including in our own time, the village has also attracted different people from around the world and from within Israel who wanted to live in the quiet countryside, in space that would allow them to grow spiritually and physically. The natural beauty encourages both artistic freedom and privacy together with communal life. Nearly 100 practicing artists live in or near Ein Kerem, and many craftsmen have found the village to be a wonderful place in which they can work and produce. Ezra Kedem, renowned chef and owner of Arkadia restaurant, lives in the valley of Ein Kerem. He is a native Jerusalemite, but says that it took him "Many years to find a place where I can live like this. I am close to the city and I can still enjoy the country life. I grow my own vegetables and fruits in my garden, and it's great to be able to connect to the cycle of nature." Other artists such as internationally recognized painter Ivan Schwebel, Itzchak Greenfeld, and photographer Chanan Dinel have also found inspiration in Ein Kerem. There's something about the natural surroundings that slow things down, infusing the neighborhood with a calm quiet. "Live and let live" would be the motto to which most would subscribe. But over the past few years Ein Kerem has been changing its pace. Promoters and tourists have discovered the magic, and the ever-growing numbers of restaurants, stores and visitors are demanding that the locals change their attitudes and habits. On the one hand, the hospitable mentality that characterizes the village still prevails, but the noise and commotion leave their mark. Mr. Cohen (known to all as "Jano"), owner of the convenience store for many years, is ambivalent. "It's good for the business, but not for my siesta," he quips. Local tenants discuss the dilemma daily. Should the village try to keep its quiet, inner nature? Or should they progress and become more urban? Earlier this month, Ein Kerem celebrated the beginning of the fall season with its annual festival. In its own way, the "villagers" of Ein Kerem are still trying to preserve their own quiet lifestyle, while time and changes have given a different tone to the festival. Veteran residents remember when the festival served as a a melting pot for the colorful folklores that filled the village and provided an opportunity for families to share their different foods, clothes and customs. Mothers exchanged recipes, people danced in the streets to to the different ethnic beats, children built bonfires and teenagers fell in love. This year's festival still focused on the multicultural, but the energy was different. Unlike the traditional festival, this year's fair, funded by the Kiryat Hayovel Neighborhood Administration and the Multicultural Center in Ein Kerem, this fair was spread out over three locations, with multiple performances and a photography exhibition in the "Pundak Ein Kerem." The festival was open to the public, and most of the revelers were visitors. "It has been beautiful to see the progression of the character of the festival over the years," says Nili Hod, an architect living in Ein Kerem. "The diversity of performances, crafts and people was the magic of the celebration of the village." Performers included, among others, Michaela Harari the founder of the Flamenco Center in Ein Kerem and the "Kvutzat Mistorin" (The Mystery Group) that performed "Esh Mimayim" (Fire From Water), a spectacular dance theater for children and adults. And while teenagers may still have fallen in love, there were no bonfires. But there was a fireworks exhibition, and locals hoped that they will always remain both a warm home for the residents and a magical place for the visitors.

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