Harp players, ethnic bands singing in different languages, art performances, opera singers and more dot the street corners every Monday in February at the 'Shaon Horef' festival in Jerusalem.
Einat Gomel, of the municipality's Arts and Culture Division stated that "Monday is the hardest day for businesses or even just hanging out because no one wants to leave their heater or couch in the winter." Gomel spoke to The Jerusalem Post standing on a downtown side street as two musicians played the harp and hang instrument nearby. Dancers dressed in black and draped in tiny lights performed to the music as onlookers took photos.
"Despite the challenges, it is our job to do it, and an investment in art and culture," Gomel said. "It's what makes this city interesting," she added.
"Shaon Horef," meaning winter time (literally, winter clock) in Hebrew, had its roots nine years ago when Gomel and a group of friends decided to create a winter festival. On a volunteer basis, they gathered performers and contacted businesses to create "De:frost Jerusalem." A year later, the municipality jumped on the idea and offered them a budget and an opportunity for students from local schools such as the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, and Ma'aleh School of Television, Film & Arts.
Gomel is an art school graduate who "fell in love with the city." "I am one of those who stayed in Jerusalem and tried to make it a better place," she elaborated, adding that the mix of different people and cultures "creates something new."
Two of the four events are in the city center and on side streets, as opposed to the popular central Zion Square. The other two events are at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City and in the Talpiot industrial zone. Gomel explained that the festival works together with the many auto-shops and warehouses in the industrial zone, which close early and rarely see late-night entertainment. "We create the events to fit them to the location," she stated.
Over the years there have been many complaints about the growing amount of festivals the city has produced that do not fit with the nature of the capital. The most infamous of these being the Formula 1 event which shut down major streets.
"NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard -- is common at events, even downtown," Gomel said. "This is one of the reasons we move locations every week. We don't want to push people's tolerance," she explained.
But lively night happenings in the middle of the week are a welcome break in the daily routine, Gomel commented, with the event generating revenue for shopkeepers and restaurants.
The crisp air is lively with young people walking to the multiple locations where performers are stationed. A hip-hop performer with a kippah and tzitzit raps about his yeshiva, while on the next sidewalk, mimes perform in the window of an art studio. Standing at the corner of Ben Sira street and Shlomzion Hamalka street, art students project colorful designs on the wall. In front of the historic home of Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, people play backgammon to the beat of Mediterranean music. Across the street at Goren Piano, the oldest musical instrument shop in the city, a young opera singer performs, drawing a small crowd on the sidewalk.
Walking past the corner of the usually quiet Yannai and Koresh streets, passerby could find the window of an antiques shop transformed into a giant message board. A project of the Panim Ensemble, participants were asked to write a message on the "social media wall," while a camera displayed them on a big screen. Ensemble members Itay Leigh and Atalya Zahavi Sagee spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the project they call Game On. "It explores what it means to be anonymous within a crowd and to be exposed with your name on it," Leigh stated.
"Unless you are very pedantic with your privacy settings, what you wrote on Facebook is exposed to everyone who might stumble upon it," he said.
At the end of the night, the Panim Ensemble members interviewed participants to ask them about how they felt. Then, they wiped the window clean and the store returned to its normal businesslike appearance.
Leigh noted the difference from social media pointing out that on Facebook, "you can't really erase things. Even if you do delete a post or reply, it is saved in some database far across the sea."
"Some people don't really like to share," Zahavi Sagee explained. "when it's real and on the street and you have to write -- you can see your face and how you move -- its difficult. But when it's just in front of the screen it's easier," she explained.
"We are trying to unmask the experience that we are all numb to already," Leigh added. "Here you are forced to examine what you write and question yourself."
Winding past a jazz band and a klezmer group were two circus performers silently acting out a story in sync to music and sound effects. It ended with a somersault off a ladder to the applause of the awed audience. Dror Liberman, originally from Beersheba and Kazuyo Shionoiri originally from Japan, spoke to the Post about their experience at the event.
Entitled "traffic light," the performance was meant to replicate the historic Tel Aviv phenomenon of street performers doing their act at crossroads.
Shionoiri has lived in the Jewish state for the past 18 years performing in a variety of theater and dance events. She noted the contrast in the audiences of each country. "Japanese people really do not react," she explained, whereas in Israel, audiences are much more enthusiastic and won't hold back. She said both tendencies have their pluses and minuses. "Any kind of audience gives me experience. A performer should learn how to deal with it," she added.
Despite the cold weather, the two saw the 'Shaon Horef' festival as a good chance to demonstrate their talent. "The Holy City always has a special atmosphere," Liberman said.
For more information visit http://shaon-horef.co.il/