A roller-coaster season

“The last 50 days [of Operation Protective Edge] have changed us all, and you could see it at Contact Point: almost 5,000 people came, but the atmosphere was one of reserve, of restraint.”

Theater Masks (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Theater Masks
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Among Jerusalem Season of Culture staff, emotion is the name of the game this week.
Ensuring the festival broadcast the message that Jerusalem is much more than a conflict area – by running an almost three-month series of events, with guests from around the world, during wartime – was practically a “mission impossible.” Yet just a few days before the last leg, the Sacred Music Festival, it seemed things were slowly but surely chugging along – though all staff members, starting with director Naomi Fortis, insist that “business as usual” would be the least appropriate term to describe the present situation.
“We couldn’t open, as we did before, with the very popular ‘Contact Point’ [artistic nighttime experience] at the Israel Museum,” says Fortis. “But we didn’t want to cancel it, so we delayed it to last week [August 31]. It was very moving and the right thing to do, from our point of view.
“The last 50 days [of Operation Protective Edge] have changed us all, and you could see it at Contact Point: almost 5,000 people came, but the atmosphere was one of reserve, of restraint.”
The conflict necessitated a particularly high skill of adaptation, as even though many guests from abroad did not cancel, Fortis, artistic director Itay Mauntner and the staff could not always take on the responsibility of receiving them, due to the situation on the Gaza front and the difficult atmosphere in Jerusalem. Every day was just another struggle to find a way to adapt planned programs to headquarter requests, like moving outdoor programs to a venue with a shelter, sometimes causing staff to reduce the numbers of attendees, or scrap the programs completely. This was the case with the “Under the Mountain” – art in the public space – which, naturally, could not go forward.
The latest, highly anticipated production that is, at least for the moment, not canceled but delayed without a new date is the “Took Took” program – aimed at inviting spectators into the daily life of working people in their natural environment.
At the festival office, located near the First Station complex in the Baka neighborhood, Fortis reveals that just a few minutes before, she had read a preview on prestigious British world music magazine Songlines, praising the Sacred Music Festival’s organizers, who “keep fighting with their own special weapons – a paintbrush, a guitar, words, theater sets, food and anything that raises the spirit.” Coming from England, a place where boycotts of Israel are so prevalent, Fortis admits the words brought tears to her eyes.
Cancellations were inevitable, but Fortis emphasizes that only a few did so due to political positions. This again required reshuffling of some planned programs, with things done on a day-to-day basis. “This is where the fact that the Jerusalem Season is backed by philanthropic support, and is free from the financial issues to be found elsewhere, has shown its huge importance; in that it was not our primary concern, we could afford financial loss. Instead, the task was to maintain the festival as much as we could – and that has been achieved.
And now that the Jerusalem Season of Culture is reaching its last phase, it is, as Fortis puts it, perhaps the most appropriate thing at the most appropriate time. “The answer to all we have experienced and witnessed this summer is to be found in this highly moving Sacred Music Festival, the finale that comes after all – the sensitivity, the emotion, the religious feeling, the spiritual music that has the power to gather people. I really hope this will be the right apotheosis to something we have managed to put on against all odds.”