Winter Wonderland Of Israeli Culture


The scenery is quintessentially Israeli; the sounds take you around the world, to wherever folk music thrives. It’s the Jacob’s Ladder Winter Weekend, the most unlikely of festivals to find deep in the Galilee.

If you’re visiting Israel this winter and looking for an Israeli cultural experience that you can enjoy without any language barrier, Jacob’s Ladder may be just right. It consists of two days of music, mostly in English, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The main genre is folk music, though some other music styles make an appearance. The festival starts with Irish ceili dancing, and continues with “A Simple Twist of Dylan,” and then the stage is given over to a swing band from Jerusalem.

The program continues with this kind of variety, and the second day of the festival includes a tribute to Elton John, a performance by a French accordion virtuoso, and a jam session.

Jacob’s Ladder is known for upholding the values of old-style music festivals and avoiding the commercialized style of many festivals today. Each festival — they have been running for 40 years — is a labor of love for Menachem and Yehudit Vinegrad, two

Brits who moved to Israel in 1967 and found themselves missing folk music gatherings.

The festival takes place at the Nof Ginosar Hotel, where some festival-goers book rooms. It is within easy driving distance or reasonable taxi fare of many hotels in Ginosar and Tiberias. Those who really want the old-fashioned festival experience can, if they are brave and willing to take a chance on the unpredictable December weather, pitch tents by the beach.

Jacob’s Ladder may not be suitable for the strictly Sabbath-observant, as it starts on Friday afternoon, Dec. 2, and concludes on Saturday afternoon; but plenty of other festivals hold some or most of their events on weekdays. These include Jazz Globus, the annual jazz festival held in Jerusalem, which runs from Nov. 23-30.

“We have been producing the festival since 2004 and this is the 13th so we’re calling it ‘Jazz Globus The Barmitzvah,’” said Vladimir Mak, one of the organizers. Asked what makes Jazz Globus special, he commented: “There are no borders between the genres of music — we have everything from avant-garde to improvised classical.”

This year’s Jazz Globus will include six concerts and one jam session. Most of the musicians are Israelis, with two others flying in from America, two from Russia, two from the Ukraine, and one from Germany.

Jazz Globus takes place in a traditional auditorium, but you can find jazz under the open skies in Israel’s southernmost resort, Eilat, even at the height of winter. If you weren’t there, you really missed out. This summer, the sound of jazz was heard over the glistening waters of Eilat at the 30th Red Sea Jazz Festival. But thankfully you get a second chance, because in a few months Eilat is doing it all again. The producers of Red Sea Jazz also offer a winter season — still outdoors as this is Eilat.

The lineup includes Israeli and international artists playing a rich variety of classical jazz music alongside jazz world music. In recent years, festival organizers have expanded the musical range on offer and boosted provisions for children and budding musicians who want to improve their skills. The dates for this winter’s festival have not yet been set, but it is expected to be scheduled for January or February.

In the northern Israel city of Haifa, tourists and locals head to a unique coexistence festival every winter. It all started 23 years ago when Chanukah, Christmas and Ramadan fell together and the city decided to hold a joint celebration. This year only Chanukah and Christmas coincide, but the Holiday of Holidays celebration will still take place as a tribute to all three communities — as well as other smaller ethnic groups, including the Bahai, who live in Haifa. The main highlights are normally large and lively street fairs, open-to-all performances, and events in community cultural facilities.

Last year, Haifa launched A-Sham, Israel’s first Arab food festival, as part of Holiday of Holidays. The festival was under the creative direction of 2014 Master Chef Israel winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, from the northern Israeli Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, and the Jewish culinary expert Arieh Rosen.

The food festival included workshops by a collective of Christian Orthodox Arab women from the village of Rameh in the Galilee, panels on Arab cooking, and music.

Israel’s culinary scene does not only reflect the broad taste palate of the country’s ethnically diverse citizens, but also offers some dining experiences made interesting for other reasons. One such experience is found at the Nalaga’at Centre in Jaffa, a place where the general public and tourists get to encounter the world of deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people.

There are two places to eat at Nalaga’at, and both are kosher. At Café Kapish, deaf and hearing-impaired waiters serve a dairy menu, and communicate with customers in sign language. They say that customers are amazed to find out how pleasant and easy communicating without words can be.

The ultimate Nalaga’at dining experience is Blackout, a completely dark restaurant where customers are served and guided through the meal by blind waiters.

The meals are dairy and fish, with vegan and gluten-free options available, and served in two daily sittings, at 6.30 p.m. and 9 p.m., and their ethos is that “there is so much to be ‘seen’ when eyes are closed.”