Among the plethora of cultural events, all around the country and across the calendar, there are numerous grand glittering affairs, but also some of a cozier, closer-to-home nature. The annual free Ein Kerem Festival – supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Jerusalem Municipality and produced by the Yuvalim Community Administration – clearly pertains to the latter category.
On December 2-3, the picturesque Jerusalem neighborhood will play host to its annual eponymous arts, cultural and definitively sociable festival based on the homey theme of A Winter’s Tale. “I chose the theme because it infers a sense of intimacy and coziness,” remarks artistic director Rachel Raz who is at the helm for the fourth year running.
There is, naturally, a seasonal side to the title. “Of course it is now winter,” Raz continues. “The festival normally takes place on Sukkot but the government said it might impose more lockdowns so, in the end, we decided to defer.
Last year’s edition was a purely digital affair, although this time round the shows, and other events, will be presented based on an online-live hybrid mix. “All the shows on Thursday (December 2) will be digital, and there will be live shows on Friday,” Raz notes.
The spiel motif runs through the entire lineup. “There will be a lot of stories,” says Raz. “In addition to the music, everyone will tell some tales at all the shows. I think that is highly appropriate, for this time of the year, when we all look inward, into our homes. And, anyway, Jews tend to like stories,” she laughs.
The digital curtain-raiser, at 8 p.m., fittingly features one of the locale’s own kind in the delightfully named It’s Fine To Be Sentimental concert, with Ein Kerem resident singer Tzipi Zarenkin partnering singer-songwriter Nathan Slor, who just happens to be the grandson of Israel Prize laureate writer Natan Alterman. Mind you, Zarenkin has some impressive pedigree too, having come under the prestigious wing of Moshe Vilenski, the fêted Israel Prize-winning songsmith, who made significant contributions to the Great Israeli Songbook. That will be followed by the one programmatic import, an online presentation of the driving sounds and rhythms of the EGARI ethno-jazz outfit from Georgia.
Raz has certainly put together a diverse cast of acts, with Ethiopian-born Israeli saxophonist-singer Abate Berihun joining up with guitarist and kamanche player Nissan Ventura in an intriguing show that runs the gamut from Ethiopian blues through to jazz-fusion, world music and original Jewish soul-gospel charts.
The rich first day’s program also takes in a globe-trotting performance by the locally-based Alegria group. The quartet, with singer Einav Dahari, wind instrument player Itai Binnun, percussionist Gilad Amsalem and violinist Amit Levy complemented by various guest artists, will take their audience on a magical musical tour through Spain, Latin climes and onto Morocco and Yemen.
THURSDAY’S CENTERPIECE is the On The Edge of Light concert, by the Jerusalem Niggun Ensemble, at 8 p.m., which fuses Eastern and Western charts through the prism of Jerusalem and its myriad facets. The quintet’s Ein Kerem date features former The Voice contestant guest vocalist Elnatan Shalom.
Raz notes that this is very much a homegrown and downright welcoming affair. “The festival came from the local residents, 20 years ago. They started with open houses, and inviting each other into their homes.” That was well before the Open Houses Festival hit these shores, in Tel Aviv, in 2008. “People here really got to know each other, their neighbors. Over the years it grew into something bigger.” It certainly did, although the accent is still very much on keeping things close to street level and not going for blockbuster events.
While many artists and festival organizers have complained about having their wings clipped by being confined to digital means of presenting their programs, Raz feels last year’s online run brought the Ein Kerem bash some surprisingly rich rewards. “We planned it as a live event and then we were forced to make do with the digital format. We were really disappointed but I subsequently realized that it worked out for the best. We were watched by hundreds of thousands of people online. It was amazing. We got really great exposure, far more than we would have had if it had all been live. It really helped spread the word about our festival. I hope we get so many people joining in this time too.”
But, surely, it is more challenging to convey the unique ambiance of the Jerusalem neighborhood via computer screens. Raz begs to differ. “We try to give people a feeling of the neighborhood, and of the people who live here, on the digital format too. We try to have local artists in the shows we present, like Tzipi Zarenkin who is from Ein Kerem, and Alegria are all from here.” That certainly makes a refreshing change from the big name bills of other cultural events around the country.”
The first virtual program day of the festival is more adult-oriented, with Friday’s fare aimed at the family sector. “Locals will welcome people into their homes, and visitors will see the roofs of Ein Kerem and the courtyards, and everything is free,” Raz stresses. “We try to offer the public a sense of what the neighborhood is about.”
Regardless of the hi-tech broadcasts, there will be lots of live entertainment laid on too. The second day kicks off, at the somewhat unearthly hour of 9 a.m., with the members of the Israeli Klezmer Orchestra – which is actually a trio – doing their merry dynamic thing as they wend their way through the backstreets and alleyways of Ein Kerem. The narrow thoroughfares, synagogues and churches will also be covered by guided tours with, naturally, the guide regaling visitors with local tales of yore.
The charming Sisters of Zion convent will host the internationally acclaimed Megiddo Choir, conducted by Pnina Inbar, in a program of Hebrew classics, while Morni Gertner will use her own polished skills to tell some stories from the Far East with her classical Indian dance spot accompanied by a vocalist, violinist and tabla player.
All that walking, talking, listening and watching could make anyone a little famished and parched, and the local restaurants and cafés will be delighted to accommodate to every and any culinary request. Sounds like a winner all around.