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Hot nights in ‘hell’ at Jerusalem’s international festival

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On August 3, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

On a hot Jerusalem night, the best place to go is the city’s international arts and crafts fair featuring a wild array of wares from Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

A steady stream of tourists and locals visit the Jerusalem Festival every year.

A hiking trip through one of Jerusalem’s famous pine forests makes for a deliciously-scented summer’s day, but to wind down on a Jerusalem evening, it’s best to go to the Jerusalem International Arts and Crafts Fair (in Hebrew, Khutsot Hayotser).

On August summer nights Sultan’s Pool, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem on its western side, is like a big park in a bowl. Once a Roman aqueduct, a dam in the 14th century, and known as “hell” in Hebrew, it’s the venue of choice for festivals and events, like the annual Arts and Crafts Festival now underway.

While Jerusalem nightlife pales in comparison with Tel Aviv’s, festivals like these add some outdoor zing and color to the restaurants, clubs, bars and cafes that dot the city downtown. For two weeks each summer, this year from August 2 to 14, tourists and locals jostle each other among the colorful wares and enjoy the outdoor concerts. Some 150,000 people are expected to wend their way among the craft stalls, food stalls and stages between six and 11 in the evening.

Art from the Arab world

Rotem Amato, who is handling the public relations for the festival, which this year celebrates its 35th anniversary, tells ISRAEL21c that all the cultures in Israel are represented, including Israel’s Arab and Bedouin communities, and that this year artists from Jordan and Morocco will also be showing their work from the Arab world.

Art and craft from all over the world will be on sale at the festival.

“Over the years, this festival has become a real institution in Jerusalem and it is attracting tourists from all over the world,” Amato says. “This year, there will be special craft shows from Australia, crafts of traditional design, and also artists from Jordan and Morocco, who will present a rich show of traditional Moroccan crafts – carvings and copper. These artists who come to Israel [despite ongoing political tensions between the Arab world and Israel] say art is above everything.”

The festival is also about making money. With a steady stream of visitors in the mood to buy, in addition to the visiting vendors here to make a profit, young local craftspeople also spend the months prior to the festival sewing hammock swings, creating Judaica and making pottery to be sold at the festival.

While it’s fun to clown around with African tribal masks, a big draw for many is the musical shows, included in the $13 entrance fee. This year’s headliner opening night act is Eurovision Song Contest 2010 contender Sofia Nizharadze, a pop star from Georgia. Maria Isabel Saavedra, a singer and composer from Colombia, is also expected to perform, and Israeli pop stars include Gidi Gov, Achinoam Nini and Ivri Lider. Jerusalem-based nightclub Yellow Submarine also has a stage at the festival, with acts that target the younger crowds.

Alongside arts and crafts, there are also street performances.

A Holy City night

And of course, there’s food. International cuisine is on offer, with tastes of Asia and Africa as well as local fare available from rows of stands.

“This is one of the most important festivals in Israel,” says Amato. It’s not only about bringing revenue to the city, which is enjoying a tourism boom: “The city wants people to come and visit not only during the day, but at night, too. This festival brings in the young people, plus it’s really beautiful at night,” she adds.

Visitors to the Israeli Pavilion can expect to find more than 150 of the best of Israel’s artisans selling paintings and prints, ceramics and pottery, metalwork and jewelry, textiles and more. The international pavilion boasts diverse offerings from countries around the globe, full of craftspeople who are more than happy to demonstrate their creative processes, hailing from China, Indonesia, Thailand, Poland, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uzbekistan and more.

Local traditions abound, like Arabic glass blowing; Bedouin jewelry and carpets; Palestinian embroidery and copper utensils; Israeli Armenian ceramics; engravings on olive wood; and spices from the region. Syrian furniture and leather work are also featured.

And when you’ve bought all there is to buy, seen all there is to see, and heard all the music worth hearing, relax into the night with the wild and wacky Tav Group. This group of Israeli acrobats, magicians, jugglers, hippies and entertainers invites its audiences into a courtyard full of surprises that includes yoga workshops, gypsy songs and dancing shadow performances – all of this while you sip your tea and soak up the magic of a hot Jerusalem night, which seems to be a lot closer to heaven than to hell.

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