Icy front coming to Jerusalem

Capital’s first ice festival starts on March six.

Ice carver from China building sculpture_390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ice carver from China building sculpture_390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naomi Shemer sang her way into Israeli history when she poetically described “Jerusalem of gold, of bronze and of light.”
Starting on March 6, visitors will be able to add another surprising item to the list of Jerusalem’s ethereal materials: ice.
A group of 35 expert ice carvers from China are already hard at work creating a 1,500-square-meter ice extravaganza, with renderings of Jerusalem landmarks as well as an ice zoo and an ice coffee shop, which will open for two months starting in March.
More than 650 tons of ice will be sculpted into whimsical and fantastical creations inside a giant structure in the parking lot of the old train station in the German Colony neighborhood. The area must be kept at -10 degrees Celsius at all times, and visitors will receive special coats when they enter.
Jerusalem: Ice City is a joint venture between the municipality and the Ariel Company, a semi-private company associated with the municipality, which the city hopes will become a yearly event.
Ariel CEO Meir Torgeman would not reveal the cost of the project, which requires an electrical system larger than Teddy Stadium, or whether Ariel expects to make money on the venture.
But Bai Wei, the general manager of the Chinese company the exhibition, Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Art Development Co., said similar projects in the United States cost approximately $2 million.
Torgeman credited the mayor’s “cultural revolution” with providing the opportunity to hold such a large and expensive festival, and the emphasis the mayor has placed on longer exhibitions that positively affect both tourism and local businesses. “People will want to sleep here, they will want to eat here, they will want to go out here, and that will affect the city,” Torgeman said as he stood next to a life-size lion made out of ice.
A stunning Tower of David already rises from the floor of the structure, light glinting off the clear ice in the Jerusalem quadrant of the exhibition. Visitors will walk through a transparent Jaffa Gate to enter the exhibit.
In the zoo area, a worker diligently carved a fur pattern into the an ice giraffe, which has been dyed a bright yellow.
The other two quadrants of the exhibit will feature characters from Israeli children’s stories and a fantasy area. There will also be an ice-skating rink, coffee shop and bar.
The exhibit will utilize some 600,000 blocks of ice created at a manufacturing plant in Ashdod that was built especially for the exhibit, which runs from March 6 through April 30.
“The hardest part, aside from the logistical side of the project, was thinking of a concept that, on the one hand, would honor our most precious asset, which is Jerusalem, and other the other hand, would appeal to the wide range of populations in Jerusalem, to families and children,” explained Sharon Shalev, the producer of the Ice City.
The tradition of extravagant ice cities comes from Harbin, China, a wintery city in the snowy northeastern part of the country. Bai Wei explained that in the 1960s, the city began hosting an annual ice-sculptor show.
“The first idea was to solve the problem of entertainment during the winter, because in the winter, it’s very cold, and there’s no entertainment,” he explained. Temperatures dip to -30 degrees Celsius in the winter.
The annual ice-sculpture show in Harbin, each year bigger than the last, became a worldwide phenomenon. Now, five universities in the city of approximately 5.8 million offer degrees in ice art. There are even competitive high school ice sculpting competitions.
Teams of artists from Harbin travel around the world creating giant exhibitions, including in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States.
Bai Wei said that many visitors, especially at American exhibits, like to break off pieces of the sculptures and take them home. “We know they do it because they like it,” he laughed. But he warned that the souvenirs rarely survive the ride back home, and the bandits are left with nothing but a puddle in their pocket.
Bai Wei also added that though the materials, including the ice coloring, are edible, it is not a good idea to lick the sculptures. Not only could you get frozen to the sculpture, but you also never know where other curious visitors have tried to taste the artwork.
Each city where an ice exhibit is created is different, Bai Wei explained.
In Jerusalem, the team toured the Old City extensively, “in order to get inspiration,” he said. “Only after understanding the culture here could they begin their artistic creations.”
Bai Wei also defended critics who balked at the colossal use of resources needed to create the ice and maintain the giant structure at a chilly -10 degrees, by explaining that despite the electricity use, there was little other waste created, as the sculptures will simply melt.
Ultra-Orthodox residents created a small stir by demanding gender-separate hours on the skating rink. “This is Jerusalem, so there always is that request, but we won’t honor it,” said Shalev.
In Harbin, the annual ice festival takes place on a sprawling campus, as hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world climb up ice staircases into life-size castles.
Jerusalem’s exhibition, held inside a specially constructed building that costs NIS 5m., is more modest. But the breathtaking sculptures are no less impressive, especially because they are in Jerusalem.
Indeed, not only did Israelis make the desert bloom, they made the desert freeze.