The Cupola. Photo by Mel Brickman
Art,Entertainment,History and Culture

Lights in Jerusalem

My friend Barbara and I were standing at Jaffa Gate facing the Cupola – an 82-foot-high domed structure by Italy’s Luminarie De Cagna – at the magic moment when night fell and its 63,000 electric candles came alive with tiny points of colored light.

It was opening night of the Jerusalem Festival of Light in the Old City, the fourth such event to bring international and local light artists’ sculptures, performances, projections and displays into the inimitable atmosphere of the ancient neighborhood.

Many people go for four nights to explore each of the four routes – orange, blue, green and yellow. Barbara and I opted for orange (my favorite color) and spent the next two hours on foot taking in some pretty awesome spectacles in the pleasant night air.

Rosoni de Cagna’s street lights.

Rosoni de Cagna’s street lights.

Our route was, cleverly, sponsored by the Orange wireless communications company, which presented a show called “Clear” in Batei Machase Square, an area of the Jewish Quarter built in the 19th century. The show featured colossal projections on the Rothschild House, which functioned as an Arab officers’ school between 1948 and 1967 and now houses an elementary yeshiva. The show was accompanied by a guy in heavy gloves playing a giant musical instrument called an Earth Harp. The strings were attached to a rooftop way over yonder above our heads.

At one point a reporter approached to ask our impressions of the free event. I told her that it brings a refreshing and fun perspective to a part of town that I might not otherwise care to explore at night. The normally dark cobblestoned alleyways were animated with polyglot tourists enjoying the colorful installations and pulsing music. Festival-goers were expected to number about 250,000 despite the fact that the Israel Opera Festival was going on at the same time.

My evening ended with an outdoor performance on light and electricity by Mayumana, a quirky high-energy Israeli modern dance troupe. Snaking my way back to Jaffa Gate to catch a bus home around 11:00, I discovered that this was when the crowd was truly starting to arrive. It was going to be a long and lively night in Jerusalem.

Mayumana in action. Photo by Ron Birn

Mayumana in action. Photo by Ron Birn

Some other things you can see through June 14:

  • Ocubo: A Portuguese interactive virtual “ball game” where participants control the weather.
  • Key Frames: The French group Laps used LED light pipes to create more than 60 characters, animated by choreographic light and music.
  • – Cathedral: Developed by Raoul Hurwitz from Estonia, this installation was made entirely out of salvaged old windows.
  • – Light Benches: A project of the German architect Bernd Spieker, these illuminated benches invited passers-by to rest and take in their surroundings.
  • – Faces of Jerusalem: The German artist Jan Ising’s three-dimensional exhibit presents a collection of projected photos of the people of the city, taken by Ising and Bartosh Navarra during April.
  • – The Enlightened Magic Circus: A magical journey through the Christian Quarter featuring 10 illuminated circus scenes that the German artist Nicola Dicke painted using her own special technique on slides.
  • – Shadows Story: Inside the Cardo, a restored Roman marketplace in the Old City, Israeli artist Adi Paz-Faingold presented a light-and-shadow version of “Hansel and Gretel.”
  • – Afterlight: A Dutch creation in the Cardo using dynamic photographs projected on the wall that created optical illusions accompanying an animated journey into the human brain.
  • – Pitaya: A floating display of pollen and jellyfish made entirely out of plastic pipes and lit with LED bulbs, Pitaya hung in the air above the audience.
  • – Dragons and other animals illuminated by innovative light technology by the Mystorin Theater Group celebrated the Chinese Year of the Dragon.


Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker
Art,Entertainment,Life,Music,Pop Culture

Israeli ‘Carmen’ is a hot ticket in the desert

The Israeli Opera returns to Masada this week with a majestic production of Bizet’s Carmen. On the backdrop of the stunning ancient fortress at the lowest point on Earth, the five open-air concerts will draw some 50,000 opera newcomers and devotees.

Since first staging Nabucco in 2010 and then Aida in 2011, the Israeli Opera has made it a tradition to stage a grand production annually at this magical setting.

Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker

Carmen. Photo by Yossi Zwecker

And while there are many aspects of the show to write about, Israeli opera fans should remember this name: Na’ama Goldman.

The 26-year-old mezzo soprano was the talk of the General Rehearsal last night.

Listed briefly in the program as a cover for the roles of Mercedes and Carmen, Goldman was given the chance of a lifetime last night after Canarian Nancy Fabiola Herrera – who has performed the title role of Carmen all over the world — and Italian mezzo soprano Anna Malavasi – also meant to perform the title role – both called in sick (one fell and sprained her shoulder; the other had sinusitis).

Naama Goldman. Photo from Israeli Opera website

Naama Goldman. Photo from Israeli Opera website

Most of the audience had no idea that Goldman’s performance was the first time she was performing it on this stage. The young Israeli did a magnificent job and deserves the standing ovation she received when conductor Daniel Oren put his baton down.

Herrera was meant to take on the title role for the premiere. She performed the first two acts but then gave way to Goldman mid-show, citing a sore throat. Some critics said Goldman’s voice lacked maturity while others were blown away by the clarity. There was no denying the exceptional baptism-by-fire performances she gave.

It was Romanian soprano Brigitta Kele (Micaela), who happened to be sitting to my right, who told me about Goldman’s feat. Kele – who sported a hospital mask halfway through the opera – explained that for many of the international performers, the desert production was proving to be a strain on their voices.

The sand blown by the wind coupled with the desert heat had caused a number of the artists to suffer sore throats and stuffy noses.

Still, Kele said, she and her fellow visiting performers were only too happy to be in Israel. Kele – who is making her Israeli Opera debut with Carmen – raved about Tel Aviv (where first rehearsals were held) and said the desert setting really was exceptional.

Altogether, Carmen comprised 450 international performers, including 32 Spanish flamenco dancers.

The Israeli Opera regularly attracts an international cast. Artistic administrator Michael Ajzenstadt told ISRAEL21c last year that foreign singers, conductors and directors enjoy coming here for professional reasons. “There are hundreds of opera houses, but we’re an important house with prestigious connections around the world,” he said.

Of the three productions to take place at the foot of Masada, Carmen was being hailed as the most challenging to date.

Organizers said there were some 2,500 workers involved in creating the site — a 3,500 meter stage with 30 tons of lighting and sound fixtures and a reception area, parking and seating venue built from scratch and set to be completely dismantled the morning after the last show.

Add to that 3,000 magnificent costumes, 10 horses, seven donkeys, over 200 security personnel, the Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra, the Israeli Opera Choir, the Encore Youth Choir, the Tel Aviv Philharmonic choir and 25 marquees (which contained dressing rooms, make-up areas and dining services).

While impressive, it was the ‘who?’ that everyone asked about at the start of the production when the cast change was first announced, that turned out to be the most talked about aspect of the evening.

And, of course, that next year’s grand-scale opera at this spot will be Turandot – and that work on the production is already underway.

A New Reality,Blogging,Education,Life

Onliners do it for Israel online

Meet Pascaline Wagemans from Belgium, Simon Baaske from Austria and Danielle Gershon from the United States. All of them are studying at Israeli universities this year.

Why did they decide to attend college in Israel and what do they think about life here? They’re explaining all that in Onliners, a new vlog produced by Students For Israel, a group of 23 diverse college students under the banner of the National Union of Israeli Students.

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The idea is to use online social media to present an authentic youthful perspective on the “real” Israel in response to hate materials and misinformation in cyberspace. Onliners isn’t any sort of official hasbara PR shtick. It’s a raw look at Israel for both outsiders and insiders.

As Pascaline says, “People are super-surprised when there is a non-Jew who is not afraid to come to your country.”

The three stars of Onliners are posting a new video every week during the three-month summer semester, featuring their frank and unbiased answers to questions about why they’re here and what they’re experiencing or observing about Israel socially, culturally, academically and economically. The clips get minimal editing before being uploaded weekly to visual platforms including Facebook and YouTube.

In the first episode, which lasts six-and-a-half minutes, the three students introduce themselves and what they hope their project will accomplish.

Says Danielle, “The main goal is to allow the world to see a different image than what the media portrays.”

Simon relates that he applied to Onliners because “I kind of like the idea that someone is here, he’s seeing things, he’s perceiving them and there’s no agenda behind it.”

The project leaders hope to influence mainly those viewers who don’t yet have a concrete opinion about Israel and the Jewish people.

I’ll be blogging about each episode on Israelity, so stay tuned.


Ori at the Beach

I just came across Ori at the Beach, a picture book available in Hebrew/English and Hebrew/French.

The simple and colorful board book written by Delphine Woda and illustrated by Daniel Deroo shows an Israeli boy playing in the sand. On each page Ori is doing something else — playing matkot (beach paddleball, Israel’s unofficial national game), eating watermelon, playing with his pail and shovel.

A few words describe what Ori is doing, Hebrew above the picture and English or French on the bottom. On the side, the words are transliterated into the opposite language.

When we were raising our kids in New Jersey, we certainly wanted them to learn Hebrew and sometimes we read them story books from Israel, especially those by the incomparable Alona Frankel: Sir Ha-Sirim (Once Upon a Potty), Sefer Ha-Laila Tov (The Goodnight Book), Ha-Yom Ha-Raa Shel Tova (“Tova’s Bad Day”), Sefer Ha-Bgadim (The Book of Clothing).

The children also learned Hebrew in their schools. But because they weren’t immersed in the language, and we weren’t good enough Hebrew-speakers to converse in it at home, they didn’t hear Hebrew enough to become fully bilingual. And that’s one of my greatest regrets. Coming to Israel after high school, my kids had to work hard at fluency (the army was a big help). I believe the failure to produce Hebrew-literate Jews is one of the biggest problems in the Diaspora.

Now our oldest son and his wife (also an American immigrant) are raising their two Jerusalemites in an English-speaking household. The children go to Hebrew-speaking nursery schools, so they exist in a completely bilingual universe. I’m so jealous! Their little brains have already absorbed and sorted out more linguistic complexities than mine ever has, and the oldest is just three-and-a-half.

Not that the dichotomy is completely smooth yet. I’m fascinated with the way they mix the two languages in the same sentence (“Ani did it myself!”) and even the same word (“t’come here, Savti!”).

Experts in this field recommend that each person in the child’s life speak only one language exclusively, so as not to cause confusion. Miraculously, by the time they’re in kindergarten they can switch back and forth from one language to another as effortlessly as swatting a ball across the beach. Just like Ori.

Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

One ISRAEL21c article spurs inquiries from across the globe

Every day since ISRAEL21c posted a feature on Israel’s new ApiFix implant for correcting severe spinal curvature (“Scoliosis solution,” April 15), founder Uri Arnin has been getting emails seeking information on the medical device still in development.

“I have been getting one email a day from all over the world — the United States, Israel, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa; emails in French and Spanish,” Arnin tells us. “I got several emails from physicians whose patients came with the article printed out and asked what the physician thought about the device.”

One of these doctors asked when he could meet with Arnin and wanted to know if he was planning a trip to the United States. “It turned out this was a top-10 scoliosis surgeon in the United States,” Arnin says. “We set a meeting for next week when we are both going to be in Europe.”

The ApiFix device, now starting clinical trials in Hungary and Romania, was invented about 18 months ago by Arnin with Dr. Yizhar Floman, a leading Israeli back surgeon. It represents a big advance over current surgical methods for correcting curvature of the spine. However, it’s not yet on the market.

“The sad thing is that I have to answer all of the writers that the product is not commercially available at this time, though we hope it will be by next year. I recommend they consult their physician to see if they can wait.”

So far the buzz generated by the article hasn’t brought in additional investors, who are urgently needed to complete costly clinical trials. “But this gives me the confidence that we are doing something important that patients are waiting for. I can use part of this information to present to investors to show that the market is demanding this product,” says Arnin.

“I must say that [the ISRAEL21c article] did great job of attracting attention to our company.”