IRA GLASS: One of the performers at the 2023 Israel Festival. (photo credit: Sandy Honig)
IRA GLASS: One of the performers at the 2023 Israel Festival.
(photo credit: Sandy Honig)

2023 Israel Festival focuses on the Jewish state's somber reality


No one needs to be told that things have been tough in recent times. The fallout of lockdowns, green passports, serious health issues and the ensuing existential challenges is still reverberating around us. Naturally, contemporary art picks up on that and increasingly, creative output features references to all the above as well as to the ongoing political unrest and demonstrations that have become a fixture in the country’s weekly calendar.

That infuses the program of the 2023 Israel Festival which takes place August 1-11 at three locations around the capital – Independence Park, the Jerusalem Theatre, and the Jerusalem Arts Campus. 

“We live in a special time. A time when art meets struggle. The street meets the stage. The artists meet the city square,” note artistic directors Itay Mautner and Michal Vaknin. 

“This year the festival offers artistic adventures that in our eyes are an answer to the fascinating relationship between seemingly opposite concepts – art and battle.” 

The rising stars and established acts to line up for the Israel Festival

Rising stars and established stellar acts from around the world are lined up for this year’s festival, including the likes of American podcast icon Ira Glass, groove-laced soul, punk, hip-hop and rock American band Tank and the Bangas; Argentinian actress, writer and theater director Lola Arias; Argentinian choreographer and dancer Marina Otero; and Brazilian choreographer Alice Ripoll with her ensemble. 

 MARK ELIYAHU: One of the performers at the 2023 Israel Festival. (credit: Carlos yanez)
MARK ELIYAHU: One of the performers at the 2023 Israel Festival. (credit: Carlos yanez)

Over the past couple of decades or so, the Israel Festival has increasingly granted stage and limelight time to quality local acts too. This year’s Israeli lineup features the likes of multidisciplinary artist Neta Weiner; world music-leaning kamanche player Mark Eliyahu; envelope-pushing pop-up theater director and producer Semion Aleksandrovskiy; internationally acclaimed writer Etgar Keret; veteran pop divas Rita and Gali Atari; and psycho-pop art collective Broken Fingaz. Mautner and Vaknin appear to be letting their hair down this time around.

The 11-day bash opens, naturally, with a gala slot taking advantage of the romantic theme suggested by the advent of Tu B’Av, our very own “Valentine’s Day.” Besides his earnest purely ethnic offerings – particularly with his Dagestan-born father Piris – kamanche (spike violin) playing Mark Elyahu stars in the “About Love” curtain raiser at Independence Park, alongside a heavy-duty cast of Rita, Turkish-born longtime American resident multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek, rock-inflected Mizrahi singer Shai Tsabari and young Israeli Arab vocalist Valerie Hamaty. East meets West appears to be the core of what may very well have the audience dabbing a few tears.

The same downtown open-air venue hosts a very different show on the morrow, as the “Meshuleshet” (Triangular) lineup fuses the infectious energies of Tank and the Bangas with singer-songwriter Jasmin Moallem and rapper Echo. The organizers describe the musical confluence as “an evening bursting with feminine groove and addictive rhythm.”

There are also a number of intriguing cross-disciplinary items laid on for our entertainment. The One Song show at the Jerusalem Theatre (August 3 and 4, at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.) brings radio to the stage as the eponymous popular musical podcast steps out of the studio and into the concert hall.

Three years ago Maya Kosover and Nir Goraly took a leaf out of an American podcast called Song Exploder on which a motley spread of pop and rock artists deconstruct their songs and talk about the creative and personal backdrop to their creations.  For the One Song festival event, Kosover and Goraly look at three numbers that share common ground, with an A-lister cast of singers and songwriters including Gali Atari, Eli Luzon, Nadav Hollander and Yankele Rotblit doing the musical honors.

The musical-storytelling keeps on rolling with Seven Things I’ve Learned, over at the Beit Ha’am Cultural Hall (August 9, 8:30 p.m.), when Glass combines audio, video and music and lets his audience in on the way he crafts compelling, memorable stories along the way. The following day (August 9, 9 p.m.), at the same Jerusalem Arts Campus venue, Glass joins up with Keret for the Half-baked Stories about My Dead Mother show as they combine their narrative skills for an evening of evocative and comical storytelling.

That follows the Love Me Tender slot, at the School of Visual Theater, when another leading member of the podcast sector, Corinne Kitzis, looks at love, family, identity and freedom as she strives for self-acceptance and searches for a signpost for life.

In recent years, culture consumer participation has become a mainstay of the festival program. Semion Aleksandrovskiy aims to get his audience fully on board, and in the thick of the creative action, with his Short Term work which gets six airings at the Jerusalem Theater on August 3 and 4. The project is subtitled “A bittersweet lament for parents, children and the time that binds them” which, some might say, encompasses much of the Jewish human condition. The interactive show has already done a round or two in Europe and asks probing questions about the meaning of life and how we deal with memory and aging.

As you work your way through the Israel Festival agenda you get the distinct impression that our premier cultural event is gradually moving further away from the tried and tested onstage-performer passive-audience setting.

While actress and singer-songwriter Lior Shoov could certainly be called an entertainer she tends to draw her spectators into her work and to get them to take a more hands-on approach to her offerings. That is enhanced by the performance languages, which range from Hebrew to English, French, “birdish” and gibberish which she calls her mother tongue. Her Solo Collective show at the School of Visual Theatre (August 10, 10 p.m. and August 11, 2:30 p.m.), in which she improvises “a soundtrack for miracles and wonders,” challenges the familiar song format and allows Shoov plenty of room for self-expressive maneuver. 

The fare for the junior crowd – and parents should they, as former kids themselves, so wish – includes the alluring Factory City layout of old toys and other childhood artifacts that have seen better days. The display at The New Gallery Artists Studios at Teddy Stadium is open daily August 4-11. It was devised by artist-lecturer Itamar Shimshony as a means of reimagining beloved inanimate pals of our past. Advance registration is required.

Should you, after perusing the festival’s eclectic lineup, decide to catch several acts on the same day you might want, or need, to take a between-event breather. If your chosen attendance coincides with the Jerusalem Arts Campus stretch of the program, you can get a taste of the more unfettered side of artistic endeavor with the Layers of Resistance spread, courtesy of Broken Fingaz members Tant. The display addresses the highly sensitive issue of patriotism and rallying to the flag – any flag – and poses questions about the meaning of national identity. The entrance is free.

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