A season for all reasons

This year's Holiday of Holidays festival centers on the rocket-damaged Christian Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas.

antiques cut (photo credit: Courtesy)
antiques cut
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The damage from a rocket is still visible at the headquarters of the Arabic daily El Ittihad at the entrance to Wadi Nisnas in Haifa. The missile destroyed the archives of this historic building, and its shrapnel paralyzed a resident next door. The building has been cordoned off, and the headquarters have moved temporarily to downtown Haifa. A red painting on the walls from last year's Holiday of Holidays festival still adorns the outer wall.
Click for upcoming events calendar! Wadi Nisnas fell victim to two rockets this summer, causing two deaths and several injuries. But the spirit of Wadi Nisnas residents remains determined and generous. Despite, or actually in spite of the damage, Wadi Nisnas, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, will be the center of the 13th annual Holiday of Holidays Festival every Saturday from December 9-31. The festival is deemed the country's largest annual production dedicated to coexistence between Arabs and Jews. For the next few weeks, Wadi Nisnas will defy rocket attacks with a barrage of art, food, theater and musical performances catering to the diverse religions and traditions represented in Haifa. Today, about 40,000 of Haifa's 275,000 residents are Arab, 65% of whom are Christian. "After what happened this summer, Arabs and Jews are even more determined to continue on the path of coexistence, and we have actually expanded the festival activities," said Hani Elfar, general director of Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Center, during a walking tour he gave to a group of journalists last week. Beit Hagefen, an organization dedicated to fostering tolerance and dialogue among all sectors of Haifa's population, is one of the festival organizers. Home to 8,000 residents, mostly Christian Arabs, Wadi Nisnas consists of a maze of charming alleyways whose stone walls are continuously decorated with paintings and art installations made by Wadi residents and artists nationwide. On any given day, visitors can seek out peculiar artistic nooks and historical crannies, most of which communicate messages and symbols of peace and coexistence. For this year's festival, the Wadi will be dressed with additional artworks via a special outdoor exhibition of posters and banners, turning the Wadi into a colorful street gallery. Traditionally, the festival commemorates Hanukka, Christmas and Ramadan (which this year fell in October) as a testament to the coexistence which has marked Haifa since its founding. But the festival is as much a celebration of Haifa's revival and healing in the wake of the recent conflict. Last year the festival drew more than 120,000 (according to police estimates), and the numbers are expected to go up this year, with local and foreign tourists coming to express solidarity with the city. Barring inclement weather, most activities will take place in the courtyards of the Wadi and its environs. Below is a highlight of festival events. Antiques and arts fair Antique merchants will be selling a wide selection of wares - including furniture, dishware, clocks, trinkets, artworks and hanukkiot - throughout the Beit Hagefen campus every Saturday. Experts from Shorashim, an auction house and school for art appraisal, will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday to appraise up to three artworks or antiques purchased at the festival or brought from home. In alleyways near the Wadi's bustling shuk, artists from all over the country will be selling original artworks, crafts and jewelry. Concerts Throughout the week, 18 liturgical concerts of works by the world's greatest composers, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, as well as performances by Arabic singers, will take place at Rappaport Hall and Saint John's Church. The center of Wadi Nisnas will be outfitted with a stage for ethnic and rhythmic music and dance performances. The main event will be held at 12 p.m., December 16, in the presence of Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and dignitaries from abroad. Paths of coexistence Throughout the years, special trails within the Wadi have been marked and dedicated to Haifa cultural figures whose works are considered to have fostered understanding between Jews and Arabs. These include Arab author Emil Habibi, Israeli author Sami Michael (who wrote a novel set in Wadi Nisnas), poet Hana abu Hana, songwriter Ehud Manor, and poet Dalia Rvvikovitz. Guided tours are available. Art exhibitions "Eye Level" Gallery at the Beit Hagefen Library is a children's exhibition featuring works submitted by elementary school students from all over Israel, exploring the theme "Summer Vacation 2006" - an allusion to the recent Lebanon war. Haifa Museum of Art The Haifa Museum of Art, located near the Wadi, will open its doors for free every Saturday. Its new exhibition, "Fatamorgana," showcases works by contemporary artists exploring the themes of illusion and deception through creative optical, technical and esthetic techniques. Theater The Emil Touma Stage in the Wadi, the Haifa Museum of Art and the Beit Hagefen Theater will host a variety of performances for children in both Hebrew and Arabic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Food Make sure to come hungry. Wadi Nisnas boasts some of the best felafel, shwarma and humous joints in the city. The shuk, open every Saturday, is a paradise for Middle Eastern food lovers - homemade knafa, olive oil, pitot and Turkish coffee are a few of the delights filling the Wadi with Arabic aroma. Guided tours Beit Hagefen will be holding guided bus and walking tours of Haifa's landmarks and the Wadi for an extra charge. Bus tours leave every Saturday at 11:00, 12:00 and 2 p.m. For more information, contact Beit Hagefen: (04) 852-5252 or visit www.haifahag.com.