It's all in the mind

Festivals are not usually associated with philosophy, but the staff at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim is trying to change that.

Philosophy Festival 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Philosophy Festival 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Some people say ‘philosophy’ and ‘festival’ are a contradiction in terms, but this is a festival, not an academic conference,” says Tal Kramer-Vadai, director of the the inaugural “What’s on Your Mind?” Philosophy Festival from May 18-20 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim. “We have discussions, lectures and prominent speakers like you would have in academic conferences, but we also have yoga, musical performances, a giant chess game and workshops for children and their parents.”
Festival guests will include Ruth Gavison, a founder and former president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Dror Globerman, a culture and technology reporter for Channel 2; Liad Mudrik, a program host at Army Radio; Israel (Issi) Doron, president of the Israel Gerontology Association; Gadi Lahav, chief editor of Walla; Romy Neumark, Channel 10 news editor and announcer; author and painter Yoram Kaniuk; labor law expert Ruth Ben-Israel; Shlomo Biderman, philosophy professor and former dean of the humanities faculty at Tel Aviv University; musician Shem-Tov Levi; choreographer Galit Liss; and Harry Frankfurt, an American philosopher and Princeton University professor emeritus.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim is trying to replicate the success of its International Writers Festival, which takes place every two years.
Organizers hope the philosophy festival will become a biennial event as well.
“Mishkenot Sha’ananim serves as a guest house for writers, lecturers and Nobel Prize winners who come here to write, to think and to be inspired, so we thought it would be a good idea to put together, for the first time in Israel, a festival of ideas,” says Kramer-Vadai.
The festival includes multiple tours of Rehavia and Talbiyeh, where renowned Jewish and Arab writers and intellectuals such as Martin Buber, Tawfiq Canaan and former Supreme Court justice Menahem Elon were influenced.
Another tour of Jerusalem, entitled “Touring the Mind,” will explore the connection between thinking and walking. In addition, children between ages seven and 10 and their parents will be able to participate in children’s practical philosophy workshops, moderated by philosophy teacher Isabelle Millon and Oscar Brenifier, who has written philosophy books for children.
The children’s magazine Einayim is also organizing an activity for youngsters.
Globerman and Lahav will participate in a discussion on how social media has changed the concept of friendship.
Attendees can also take part in outdoor yoga sessions across from the Old City walls.
Additional discussions include “The Sexual Revolution: Where Do We Go from Here?” “Man in the Role of God – Risks, Possibilities and Questions in Contemporary Medicine,” “Reflections on Free Will – The Human Soul Caught between Science and Spirit” and “Winds from the East: Why Do Eastern Religions Attract So Many in the Western World?” Most of the onsite activities will take place in an outdoor tent on the Mishkenot Sha’ananim premises overlooking the Old City walls. Others will be held in the institution’s Konrad Adenauer Conference Center and at the nearby Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Yad Ben-Zvi and Jaffa 23 Gallery.
The closing event will be a Kabbalat Shabbat concert by Levi’s ensemble. Between musical performances, festival guests will give short talks about the meaning of holiness.
Kramer-Vadai recommends that anyone who is interested in taking part in the festival activities should purchase tickets beforehand. “We want to tell the public that philosophy is not just for the university,” says Kramer-Vadai. “Everybody can relate to it in some way.”
The philosophy festival is the first event scheduled for the inaugural Jerusalem Season of Culture, a series of summer cultural happenings organized by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and others.
More information about the “What’s on Your Mind?” Philosophy Festival is available at