Jerusalemites stand by their cultural institutions - and they are rewarded with high-quality events.
By PEGGY CIDOR
With budget cuts threatening to force some of the city's most prestigious entertainment institutions to close, cultural life has become a tempestuous issue. Two weeks ago, Kikar Safra hosted a few dozen concerned residents and directors of cultural institutions, who came to protest the closure of the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio. Two days later it was the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's musicians turn to demonstrate against the IBA's decision to cut their budget by more than 60 percent.
Jerusalem is home to an impressive array of cultural venues, such as Confederation House, Hama'abada, the Khan Theater, Beit Shmuel and the Begin Heritage Center.
The capital's culture budget is only NIS 5 million, and many venues rely on private funding.
Nonetheless cultural events, many of them among the best ever presented here, are on tap this summer. A random tour of three institutions during the past two weeks yielded an interesting harvest.
Hama'abada, the theater founded by Erel Margalit, hosted a cheerful and moving show, At Kvar Me'usheret (You're Already Happy), written and acted by Varda Ben-Hur, who tells the story of her life: a fat girl, who became a fat woman, who gave birth to a girl with Down's syndrome and finally found the strength to love herself, her daughter and her life.
Ben-Hur, with her haunting blue eyes and her infinite smile, an unexpected lightness in her movements, dares to bring near her on the stage three handsome young men, and clearly emerges the queen. The message is rather simple - when you accept yourself and learn to love yourself, everybody around does too. But what a charming and courageous way to say it!
Ben-Hur is a member of the Theater Company Jerusalem, created in the 1970s by Gavriella Lev and still headed by her. Lev's theater, a women's group, brought to the forefront the relations among the Jewish tradition, feminine voice and artistic achievement. The long list of prizes she and her company have won since her debut at the Acre Fringe Festival in 1974 are a living proof of the public's interest in such connections. At Kvar Me'usheret and the company's Shulem run until the end of the month, and will return in the fall.
Not too far from Hama'abada, facing the illuminated Old City Walls, Confederation House is keeping its promise to add with each concert another gem to the collection of the ethnic sounds of Oriental classical music. Looking at its June and July program, it occurred to me that this is the only venue in the western part of the city that gives a stage to Arab artists - musicians or singers - performing as a regular part of the program.
Confederation House, the producer of the annual Oud Festival, is working on an exciting new production dedicated to Jewish music. Last Saturday it hosted one of the most prestigious names in ethnic music - percussionist Yinon Muallem and this Saturday night Zohar Fresco, another well known percussionist, will perform. Next Thursday, a new group - Radio Effendi, made up of young Jerusalem residents - will perform original arrangements to music from Turkey, Persia and Azerbaijan.
Confederation House is also the producer of the only Ethiopian theater group - Holgab, with Tarat Tarat, an original Ethiopian play and the famous Strindberg play Miss Julie. The two plays will travel across the country for the next few weeks and will return here at the end of the summer.
On your way to the renovated Cinematheque to watch one of the hits of the International Film Festival, you may want to enjoy a calm place in a special and enchanting atmosphere. Cross the street - carefully of course - and discover the Jerusalem House of Quality. There, among the art galleries and workshops, you will encounter a very new experience: "Skize" (in Hebrew, skitza) - an art gallery that is also a concert area and a bar (tea, coffee, wine), with a big, open sky patio. This new gallery belongs to Anatoly and Marina Sheleist, who came from Uzbekistan through Germany, after they discovered a new path to their Jewish origins. According to Anatoly, his works are an invitation to enter the deep mysteries of Kabbala and art. Marina, and her associate, also called Marina, say they want to recreate here in Jerusalem what they already had abroad: a special place for art lovers, in an enchanting location, where they plan to facilitate encounters between intellectuals and artists around art, music, philosophy and Jewish identity.
The project opened this week with a special exhibition of works by graduates of photography schools in Jerusalem. The fact that the gallery was founded by Russian immigrants, whose artistic contribution to the city is increasing, adds to the feeling that despite its real and pressing problems, Jerusalem's cultural life is still holding on.
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