Freewheeling for Jerusalem

The 2nd annual Festigalgal offers funky entertainment, informative workshops and an opportunity to boost Jerusalemites’ awareness of the existence of, and need for, cycling in the capital.

cyclists in Jerusalem (photo credit: Abir Sultan)
cyclists in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Abir Sultan)
The Jerusalem city center – specifically Jaffa Road – has been looking a bit open ended for some time, with the light rail tracks in place and only the occasional train clanging its way by the mostly unimpeded pedestrians. This Thursday afternoon, from 4 p.m., part of that urban expanse will be temporally taken over by a different, even more environmentally friendly and far more colorful, mode of transport when around 150 cyclists take off from Safra Square and peddle their way through town, via the shuk, to the Nature Museum in the German Colony.
The event in question is the second annual Festigalgal happening, a colorful joyous occasion which offers funky entertainment, informative workshops, outdoor education and an opportunity to boost Jerusalemites’ awareness of the existence of, and need for, cycling in the capital.
It is an open secret that Tel Aviv, with its flat terrain, is a far more bicycle friendly and less vertically challenging place than the hilly capital but it is a lesser known fact that increasing numbers of Jerusalemites are taking to human powered two-wheelers to get to work and get their errands done, do so more quickly than by car or bus and keep fit in the process.
Twenty-something Yonatan Plitmann, the Festigalgal artistic director, is one of the locals who not only get around the city by bike, he is among those doing their best to get the word out across the capital – to the municipality and fellow residents alike – that he is not the only biker in town and that it might be a good idea to get some infrastructures in place to making cycling in Jerusalem safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.
One of those – pardon the pun – vehicles of information dissemination – is Festigalgal, which will take place on Thursday for the second time.
“Last year we dropped the Festigalgal ‘blight’ on Jerusalem. We created something from nothing. Can you imagine? A bicycle festival in Jerusalem, with all those inclines! There’s this myth about Jerusalem not being suitable for cycling. That’s a myth which should have been scotched quite a few years ago,” says Plitmann.
Last year’s festival was something of a clandestine underground event, with around 60 people cycling from Safra Square to a public park in Beit Hekerem, in Mayor Barkat’s backyard. It was a mostly family gathering attended by about 200 Jerusalemites all told. Mind you there was some heavyweight entertainment laid on for the inaugural Festigalgal attendees, with the Marsh Dondurma gang belting out their usual insouciant gypsy-laden musical mix.
WITH THE debut event done and dusted, this year’s “carnival on wheels” will be a far more expansive and grander affair. A solar-powered moving stage – provided by the Israel Cycling Association – with music will accompany the cyclists as they pedal their way through town. Among the bicycles will be a number of tandems, with a human cyclist at the front and a giant multihued figure on the back seat.
“The doll will hold the back handlebars and will look like it is a cycling too,” explains Plitmann.
“We want this to be a fun thing to do and to watch.”
Plitmann has certainly pulled out all the stops with the artistic program which will take place at the Nature Museum community garden from 5:45 p.m., with indie folk outfit Balkan Bamachsan topping the musical bill. Other high energy performers include the museum’s house band, Nava Tehila, DJs Rocky B, Gubibosh and Gili Da Kid, and vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Daniel Slavosky. There will also be children’s workshops, tours of the community garden, a café, food and alcoholic beverages on offer. It all seems an incremental leap from the initial Festigalgal.
“The community garden at the museum will run guided tours of the place, and there will be environmental activities,” says Plitmann.
“I believe that cycling is a part of the community and I’d like that connection to get stronger.”
Although Festigalgal is tailored to be a fun outing for all, Plitmann says it is a golden opportunity to further cycling ends in Jerusalem.
“There will be a stand at the museum with copies of a map we have drawn up, of recommended bicycle routes through the city. We’re not talking about any official cycle lanes, or potential cycles lanes here, quite the opposite. We’re talking about a practical approach to the current situation of cycling in Jerusalem – how to get from A to B by bike in the best way possible. It is a map made up by cyclists for cyclists. Maybe, if we can get cyclists out there, and establish cycling routes across the city, the authorities may actually do something about it. For instance, there could easily be a cycle lane along Bezalel Street.We are also negotiating about bicycles being allowed on the light rail, but that is a another issue.”
Plitmann, naturally, is delighted with the way the event has grown.
“Last year the whole thing somehow came together,” he notes.
“People around Jerusalem helped out, with graphics, and organizing stuff, and the Hebrew University students’ union helped out. There were a few sponsors, like Itzik’s Place on Derech Bet Lehem, and Achvah Bakerem which allowed us to use their community garden in Beit Hakerem. But this year we have sponsors like the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Bilu Bikes store and the Israel Cycling Association, and the Yerushalmim (NPO) helped us with publicity. There is a sense that the awareness of the event, and of cycling in Jerusalem, is growing.”

For more information about Festigalgal: and