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Israel’s entertainment industry is coming back to life post-coronavirus

CM 21/04/2021

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The masks are off! – at least outdoors. The mood has lifted somewhat and as more and more people opt for the jab, and Green Pass guidelines enable members of the public to get back to grabbing some cultural fare, the wheels of the entertainment industry are gradually beginning to shift gears.
The showbiz community was one of the worst-hit sectors of life here during the seemingly interminable pandemic lockdown period, and folks who like to get a regular dosage of operatic, musical, cinematic and/or theatrical nourishment are looking forward to recapturing the thrill of accomplished artists doing their thing – right there before their eyes. While online viewing did its bit to dissipate some of the doom and gloom of the coronavirus strictures, there’s nothing like witnessing the miracle of artistic creation live.
Naturally, big city municipalities have begun to set their hefty wheels in motion, looking to provide urban taxpayers with some quality entertainment. But regional authorities, culture professionals and those who spend most of their waking hours keeping smaller venues in further-flung spots around the country afloat are just as keen to restore what was once considered normal service.
Down south, in Mitzpe Ramon for example, the current Headstart campaign designed to resuscitate the local jazz club has scheduled something of a gala event for May 13 that takes in a broad sweep of musical sensibilities and intent. Long-serving club honcho Gady Lybrock says he hopes the show marks the successful achievement of the fundraiser target – a cool NIS 150,00 – but, regardless, the triple-header should provide residents and, no doubt, tourists from around Israel with good value. The fun starts at the Alpaca Farm at 7 p.m., with Arava-based ethnic music trio Faran Ensemble setting the ball rolling with a sunset show. 
That will be followed by a gig featuring teachers from the Internal Compass Institute (ICI) jazz school at Mitzpe, including ICI founder, internationally acclaimed bassist Ehud Ettun and American-born cellist Jackie Fay. 
The evening closes with a bang, with stellar bassist-producer and debutant artistic director of the Red Sea Jazz Festival (which is currently underway in Eilat) Yossi Fine joining forces with drummer Ben Aylon for a party show. 
Tickets and more information available online. Google “Mitzpe Ramon Jazz Club.”  

FINE SAYS he is looking forward to the gig in the Negev, and that he is determined to help off-the-beaten-track culture purveyors extricate themselves from the pandemic morass and keep themselves afloat, regardless of whether financial support is forthcoming from the national or local purse string holders. His recent appointment as the person responsible for booking jazz artists for the new Jaffa Roof (Hagag Shel Yaffo) eatery and music venue housed by the Old Jaffa Hostel is a case in point. 
“We started a short while ago. It was wonderful to see people arriving with a smile on their face,” he says, “seeing the joy of people coming to see artists perform live after such a long time.”
Not that Fine, himself, exactly sat around twiddling his bass guitarist thumbs. 
“I did lots and lots of home shows, gigs in backyards and that sort of thing, whenever that was possible, over the past year. I saw what was happening, so to speak, behind the scenes and how people are hungry for music and culture at street level.”
Fine also feels the past general freeze on live entertainment may impact positively on the way forward. 
“People don’t take anything for granted anymore. I think there is, now, more openness to innovation. Now is the time to introduce new acts. There are so many new bands just waiting to be exposed to the public.” 
He adds that Jaffa Roof is the ideal vehicle for facilitating that consumer-purveyor interface. 
“This is a new place that can help to redefine Israeli jazz. People are rediscovering the joy of listening to music. It is very exciting.” 
FINE’S LEARNED observations about a newfound public enthusiasm for fresh artistic vistas do not resonate quite so powerfully with Effie Benaya, CEO and artistic director of Confederation House in Jerusalem. His institution has been at the forefront of predominantly ethnically tilted musical and literary offerings for nigh on 40 years, with Benaya at the helm for the past two-plus decades.
He has concerns over the willingness of members of the public to return to where the action happens, but says he is progressing full steam ahead with the various festivals Confederation House produces across the calendar and around the country. 
“We have the Poets Festival coming up on Shavuot, in Metulla as usual,” he notes happily. “And there is the Ushpizin Festival (on Succot), the Bakashot Festival, Hullegeb [Israel-Ethiopian Arts] Festival and the Oud Festival.” 
Benaya says he is eager to get back into the thick of things, but expresses misgivings about the chances of a full return to normality. 
“People may have become used to getting things for free via Zoom and other online platforms,” he notes, adding that his neck of the artistic woods is in a particularly precarious position. 
“We are not mainstream and we have to work to get people to come to our auditorium. Also, you know, there is the requirement to wear a mask during performances, which isn’t fun. Now people have to make an effort to come to us, and to pay for tickets. We’ll have to see how that goes.”
Even so, Benaya says he is excited about the future with, for example, Persian music vocalist Hanna Jahanforooz lined up to perform at Confederation House on May 6 (8:30 p.m.). And the Poets Festival up north will, hopefully, draw poetry enthusiasts starved of live presentations of literary works to Metulla May 16 to May 18. This year’s edition takes in a tribute to Israel Prize laureate Natan Zach who passed away last November.
STAYING UP north, the Hechal Hatarbut and Performing Arts Center at Ma’alot Tarshiha is also gradually reacquainting inhabitants of the town and its hinterland with the thrills and spills of staged productions. Upcoming slots include veteran actor-comedian Moni Moshonov doing a stand-up turn there on May 1 (9 p.m.) and younger generation stand-up comic Rotem Abuhab due to strut her non-nonsense stuff there on May 6 (8:30 p.m.). 
Details of the aforementioned, plus movies, theatrical works, children’s shows, music and dance can be obtained at: (04) 957-3050 and  www.heichal-maalot.co.il/
On the other side of Route 85, the cultural powers that be over at Karmiel appear to have gotten their act together, with their Hechal Hatarbut center lining up a wide variety of entertainment for the near future and beyond. The lineup gets going big time with ever-popular conductor-pianist Gil Shohat joining forces with front grid vocalist Tali Oren on April 28 (9 p.m.), with Moshe Ashkenazi weighing in with a stand-up routine on April 30 (9:30 p.m.). Shohat is due to return to Karmiel several times in the coming months, sharing additional spots with Argentinian-born singer songwriter Pablo Rosenberg (June 16, 9 p.m.), and with colorful Russian-born pianist Lionid Ptashka and opera singer Daniella Lugassy (July 6, 9 p.m.). 
THEN AGAIN, if you fancy getting away from it all down south, or happen to live there, it seems there’s plenty going on in Beersheba and the environs of the Negev. Earlier this week the Sea-Land (Yam-Yabasha) tourism joint venture between the municipalities of Beersheba, Tel Aviv and Yeruham was launched. The project offers residents of each of the three towns special deals on all kinds of activities and facilities, including museums, galleries, restaurants, holistic therapies, guided desert hikes and other outdoor fun and hands-on items. The latter, in Yeruham, feature a Moroccan tile workshop at the Zuak Studio and, if you happen to harbor a penchant for the culinary arts, a discount on participating in cooking workshop – complete with tastings – the Mevashlot Yeruham (Yeruham Cooks) workshop may be just the ticket.
MEANWHILE, FURTHER south, Eilat generally has a host of cultural events in progress at any given moment throughout the year. Our southernmost resort is also joining in the pandemic exit fun, with the second edition of the now annual Red Sea Guitar festival lined up for April 29 to May 1. The inaugural event was an intimate affair but, this time round, the organizers have come out with all guns blazing, with the likes of seasoned globe-trotting guitarist-vocalist David Broza in the lineup, along with rock-pop stalwart Danny Sanderson, A-lister ethnically infused rocker Dudu Tassa with iconic Mizrahi-spiced guitarist Yehuda Keisar guesting, and veteran pop-rock guitarist and singer Mickey Gabrielov hosting popular rocker Mosh Ben Ari. And there’s plenty more lined up where that lot came from. 
If you hang on in Eilat for a few days after the guitarists split the scene you can catch the Graffiti Street Festival, on May 4 to May 6, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A bunch of street artists will contribute to the local municipality’s renewal program by embellishing the exterior of a number of urban edifices with some fun and thought-provoking works. Happily, that is taking place in the older residential areas of town, away from the dense hotel spread below. The three-dayer also takes in hip-hop dance shows, an experiential headphone compound, a drumming workshop for all the family and a circus performance. 
HEADING BACK in a northwesterly direction, to another town that normally attracts tourists to its seafront, there are some fun goings on in store in Ashkelon. The Hechal Hatarbut Cultural Arts Center’s May 23 show promises high-quality music along with an entertaining X factor as current members of the durable Teapacks Mizrahi-leaning pop-rock outfit team up with the Jerusalem Orchestra East West for their Hahayim Shelanu Belaffa (Our Life Is in a Laffa Pitta Bread), named after one of Teapacks’ biggest hits Hahayim Shelcha Belaffa (Your Life Is in a Laffa Pitta Bread) from the band’s eponymous platinum-selling mid-1990s album.
There is also plenty in the way of comedic theatrical fare to be had, with Gaon Bekluv (Genius in a Cage) this Monday, and Loh Mishalanu (Not One of Ours) on May 27, while Hakomikaim (The Comedians) features comic super duo Moni Moshonov and longtime sparring partner Shlomo Baraba on May 30. All shows start at 8:30 p.m. 
JUST UP the coast, it is all systems go for the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra (ASO) as the ensemble prepares to unfurl a couple of items on a truly grand scale. You could be forgiven for raising at least one eyebrow at the thought of a sumptuous project involving, no less, the Russian National Ballet Theater, under the direction of Vyacheslav Gordiev. With the ASO in support playing Tchaikowsky’s beloved score, the 100-strong Russian company will perform its globally acclaimed Swan Lake production, which has been described as “a mesmerizing and breathtaking performance.” The two-and-a-half-hour show is due to take place at the Ashdod Performing Arts Center on June 3 (7 p.m.).
Five days later Vag Papian will be on the conductor’s podium as he guides the ASO through Schumann’s Spring Symphony, Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, featuring Haran Meltzer, with the program ending on a lighter note, with the Light Cavalry Overture by 19th century Austrian operetta composer Franz von Suppé.
IF YOU find yourself all the way up north in a few weeks’ time, you might want to avail yourself of the diverse offerings lined up as part of the Golan Land Festival, which kicks off on May 18, the day after Shavuot, and runs until June 25. The curtain-raiser, at Tznobar near Katzrin, stars religious singer songwriter Ishay Ribo.RELIGIOUS SINGER-SONGWRITER Ishay Ribo opens the Golan Land Festival on May 18. (Shlomi Pinto)RELIGIOUS SINGER-SONGWRITER Ishay Ribo opens the Golan Land Festival on May 18. (Shlomi Pinto)
The month-plus cultural agenda dips into numerous areas of entertainment and hands-on activities, such as cherry picking, art fairs, wine tours and tastings, exhibitions, visits to sites of historical interest and an impressive roster of big-name musical acts, the likes of top singer songwriter-actress Marina Maximilian Blumin. Some events will be free and the festival organizers are keen to direct patrons to the wide spread of accommodation on offer around the region. Another attractive aspect worth considering is the later start to summer up there, with spring flora and verdancy lasting just a little bit longer at that altitude. 
Naturally, if you live in the major centers of population there’s plenty of – hopefully – latter-stage pandemic entertainment wares available right across the disciplinary board. This Monday, at 8 p.m., classical music fans can catch Daniel Cohen conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in an intriguing repertoire of 20th-century works, including Ligeti’s Concert Românesc, Trittico Boticelliano by Respighi and Stravinsky’s mellifluous Pulcinella Suite. If you miss that slot you’ll have another opportunity to hear the same program, with the same personnel, on Thursday at 10 p.m.
Hebrew speakers may want to pop along to the Cameri Theater, with Irad Rubinstein’s The Grandson starting a week-long run on Monday, and Gut Feeling showing May 4 to May 6, to mention but a few items in the loaded schedule that looks designed to make up for lost theatrical entertainment time.
Meanwhile, over at Barby, the leading music venue is well and truly up and running. Forthcoming acts there include a host of big guns such as singer songwriter Amir Dadon, ethnic music mainstay Mark Elyahu, singer songwriter Noga Erez, top draw singer Shai Tzabari and rocker Alon Eder. Combative club owner Shaul Mizrahi, who has been through several scrapes with the powers that be since the pandemic struck, protesting loud and muscularly over the lack of state support for arts and culture in this country, says he is just happy to be back at work. 
“We’re doing what we can to offer the public what they have been wanting for so long. We’re up to 75% capacity – around 500 – but, you know, function halls and banqueting places are full, so why shouldn’t we be?”
Cultural matters are gradually picking up in Jerusalem too, with the Making Art at Koresh Street outdoor schedule of events taking in classical music, raucous Mexican material, klezmer, American-born guitarist-vocalist Anders Benzion Nerman and jazz. All the performing artists are olim from around the world. 
Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, responsible for foreign relations, economic development and tourism at the municipality, says she is hopeful Jerusalem has turned the tide and is looking forward to a good summer. Amen to that, for all of us. 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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