It's an oft repeated lament among klezmer afficianatos that there is, in fact, no klezmer music in Israel. Not to say that it doesn't exist here at all - it does, but the real centers are elsewhere: New York, London, even Berlin. This seems to make sense, at least in a certain way of thinking. Klezmer music - instrumental Ashkenazi music with roots in 19th century Europe and 20th century North America - is very much a music of the Diaspora, and therefore would seem to have little appeal in Israel, where so much effort has been made to shed the trappings of the "old country." But as the saying goes, you can't keep a good thing down. Once a year, northern Israel is graced with the Safed Klezmer Festival, which begins today and runs through July 11. The three-day festival has become an institution, completely transforming the city into a musical wonderland, with 6 concert venues and countless parties and jam sessions. And with free admission, this popular festival is a great opportunity to visit Safed and catch great live music. The festival has earned some criticism in the past because many of the performances were not considered "authentic" klezmer, but rather various strains of Hassidic-, rock- and world-influenced Jewish music that are sometimes called klezmer. The question of what exactly qualifies as klezmer can generate a lot of debate, and festival organizers have responded by arranging an excellent and varied program of both roots-klezmer and contemporary Israeli music. This year's festival features clarinet giant Giora Feidman, who performs tonight with his students from a recent week-long workshop held in Safed. Feidman, who turned 70 this year, is a master of many genres but is best known as an ambassador of klezmer. His own story is truly international: he was born in Argentina and lived for decades in Israel, where he was a member of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. He's currently a long time resident of Germany, where he has contributed much to the current renaissance of klezmer music in Europe. Other klezmer musicians scheduled to perform are Israeli clarinet master Mussa Berlin, Helmut Heizel from Germany, the Mula Vilna Klezmer group, and more. Acoustic trio Simply Tzfat is also scheduled to appear with its signature Hassidic/folk/klezmer/storytelling fusion, as is young mandolin maestro Avi Avital, who feels just as at home playing with foreign orchestras as he does playing klezmer with friends, as he will in Safed. In an effort to attract a younger demographic, many stellar Jewish rock artists will also perform, including legendary musician and composer Shlomo Gronich, who will perform with his group the Unestimable Soul on Tuesday. Also scheduled is the always passionate Aaron Razel, Sinai Tor and the popular Breslov rocker Adi Ran. In a similar vein, the Beirav Synagogue will host all-night Carlebach nigunim jam sessions every evening of the festival. In addition to great music, festival organizers recognize something else that is very important: the World Cup. They have scheduled a big screen viewing of the final World Cup game tonight in Sadeh Square, cleverly eliminating one of the main excuses for not making it to the first night of the festival. There will certainly be ecstatic dancing tonight in the streets of Safed, no matter who wins the soccer game.