Jerusalem is as much idea as physical entity, existing in history and in the present, in literature and in prayers, in hearts and minds, as the soul, the dream (and even at times the nightmare) of diverse peoples, as a place fraught with politics and nationalism, convictions and resentments that can be as transcendental as they are oppressive, as spiritual as they are mundane – which is a way of saying Jerusalem is eternal and ever changing.
Jerusalem Season of Culture audience for Kulna performance
Mekudeshet (which means belonging — as in each partner in a couple once married belongs to the other) the Jerusalem site-specific experiential arts festival that ran from August 23-September 15 is dedicated to exploring the complexity of Jerusalem. Their mission is, as per their press materials, “to seek out the source of common good and openness in Jerusalem that is at the heart of everything Mekudeshet does.” They know all too well that Jerusalem remains special to many and worth fighting for but they recognize that in the end, “Our Jerusalem is not really ours. We are hers.”
This is the seventh season of what began as the Jerusalem Season of Culture and is now a three- week end-of-summer event. Mekudeshet is supported by a host of Israeli, American and International foundations such as the Schusterman Foundation Israel, as well as individual donors. They collaborate, when relevant and appropriate, with a variety of cultural and Jerusalem-based organizations such as this year with the Israel Museum, Hansen House and the Van Leer Institute.
Naomi Bloch Fortis, Mekudeshet’s General Manager explained that they are searching for “What is sacred in our lives? What is a sacred moment?” Their answer is: “Sacred is when go out of your automated programmed response…. To break out of your shell.” Doing so, Fortis believes, can lead to a change in the mindset; and, in turn, she says, “a change in the mindset may lead to other changes.”
Among this year’s themes were ‘Above and Beyond’ and ‘Dissolving Barriers’ as well as a wide variety of experiences and musical events including a whole night of experiences and performances in the Tower of David and a 5K group sunset run to programmed content. The curators for “Above and Beyond” include Yehudit Schlossberg, Matan Israeli, and Mekudeshet Artistic Director Itay Mautner; the producers were David Kosher and Hadas Vanunu.
“Above and Beyond” took place over seven days on seven rooftops in Jerusalem and was a collaborative project with Muslala Group which founded a New Rooftop for Urbanism at the Clal Center, (Muslala is a nonprofit to create public art founded by artists, residents, and community acitivists in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem in 2009).
Although I did not visit all seven roofs, I had several unique and memorable experiences So, for example, one evening in the old city, not far from the Jaffa Gate and from the main drag of the souk, I proceeded up a set of metal stairs to the Galizia roofs, called “the roof of roofs,” There I found another world where pathways existed from roof to roof across the old city, that in all my years of visiting Jerusalem, I had no idea existed. People on bicycles pedal by (did they carry their bikes up to the roof? I don’t know); East Jerusalem teenagers do parkour there; Religious men hurry by deep in conversation while women with their afternoon food shopping also make haste across the roofs. At night lights come on and as students rush by and couples stroll, the roofs take on a whole new character, a terrace with an unobstructed view of the golden Dome of the Rock.
And it was on this “roof of roofs,” that artist Gili Avissar created a ceremony where each night for seven days between 6:00PM and 7:30 PM as the sun set, a solemn ceremony took place. A handful of men and women enacted a ritual of raising a series of flags, each an abstract design of Avissar’s. Then once all the flags were raised and fluttering in the evening breeze, they were just as ceremoniously taken down, folded and put away. This simple act in a place where many flags have flown over contested land for so many centuries was powerful, at once an act of respect for the sanctity of an everyday Jerusalem one takes for granted and still filled with the promise of a Jerusalem reborn flying flags of vibrant colors.
Volcano – Above and Beyond
I went next to a designated roof on a building off Jaffa Street. There the artist Rafram Chaddad had turned the roof into a huge field of barley. We were invited, in small groups, to don slippers and walk over to a small circle beside a pool where Chaddad was sitting. As we joined him, he began to talk: about himself, his life, his work, about Tunisia where he lives part-time, and about drying food on the roof. As he spoke, his hands were busy serving us each a plate with black couscous and lettuce leaves from which to improvise a snack. And as we ate and talked, sharing something of ourselves, we communed with Chaddad in this unnatural natural world he had created on a rooftop in Jerusalem.
An adjacent rooftop held a number of other installations. Standing on top of the Clal Center (one of Jerusalem’s first attempts at an indoor shopping mall, it is now largely deserted) , I looked out at the ancient walls of the Old City and the teeming traffic of Jaffa Street. As I surveyed the panorama, I noticed on a nearby rooftop a mound, a mountain really, simulating a volcanic eruption. The sight of it makes one laugh awkwardly, because it is so incongruous there, yet speaks to the simmering tensions in Jerusalem that threaten to erupt at a moment’s notice. What’s all the more striking is that people on the street below either didn’t seem to notice it or did not think it strange that there’s a volcano on the roof.
Sharon Glazberg “Neshama” Above and Beyond
On another side roof I found a strange-looking installation by Sharon Glazberg called “Neshama” (Soul). It is a mound of earth surrounded by seven persons who seem to be blowing into tubes that appear to make the earth itself heave up and down and who each assume a variety of positions as if enacting some ceremony.
To me, the sight of these silent tube-connected people and the living earth called to mind some “Alien”-type science fiction horror movie where humans have been tethered to an alien whose belly is rising as if to give birth to some new creature. However, Glazberg, who was present at the site explained that “Neshama” is a very personal work in which she wanted to create “an alternative ceremony for my grandmother who passed away five months ago.” Glazberg explained that her grandmother was in the hospital following surgery and had been put on a breathing machine. Glazberg was with her when she died. But even after she died her chest continued to heave because of the breathing machine. “This image stayed with me,” she said. “Of trying to bring something to life that no longer exists”
Glazberg decided for this project to create a Shiva-like mourning ritual in which she had seven people assume seven positions for seven days. At the same, Glazberg noticed that “In Jerusalem they are digging everywhere. It’s like an open wound.” So she arranged to have 2.5 cubic meters of earth that were dug up from under the Temple Mount archeological dig placed on the roof. She explained: “This is a counter-intuitive act—to raise earth, with such a rich historical past, up to a roof—a futuristic urban space. At a time when Jerusalem’s earth is being relentlessly dug up in an attempt to prove the different historical narratives, the earth undergoes a ceremony that breathes new life into it.” And so the earth of Glazberg’s ‘Neshama’ heaved up and down as the ritual was enacted.
Mekudeshet events occurred both during the day as well as at night. There was a sound installation in the Valley of the Cross (a park just below the Israel Museum) that I attended at night that was strange yet strangely affecting. Another event I wanted to attend but ran out of time was an all night group sleepover to music curated by Jerusalem’s Gilly the Kid (Gilly Levy), with music from midnight to 7AM decreasing in volume – then an hour break – after which there was more music as breakfast was served.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that when you are on a press tour hosted by Mekudeshet you are well cared for. And you are plugged in: Mekudeshet’s staff Motti Wolf and Kim Weiss seem to know everyone in Jerusalem and have great access among Jerusalem’s creative class. We were given a private performance by Sofi Tsedaka who sings haunting Samaritan prayers that are thousands of years old. We attended a rehearsal of the East-West Orchestra conducted by Tom Cohen with soloists from across the Levant. The folks at Mekudeshet are also foodies and know and are known at all the best restaurants in Jerusalem. Some of the highlights included a Lilach Rubin foodie tour of the Old City in search of the best hummus (many contenders); dinner at Anna, the new Nimrod Norman restaurant at the Anna Ticho House; Assaf Granit’s Yudale restaurant; lunch at the Offaim Café at the Hansen House. One meal was better than the next and each one was excellent.
Another of Mekudeshet’s centerpieces this season was “Dissolving Barriers” which involved committing to a five-hour magical mystery tour of Jerusalem by minivan. We were each given headphones and music players, on which Jean Marc Liling (who by day is an immigration attorney) spoke in a rich and engaging voice about his passion for Jerusalem, and what it means to be a Jerusalemite while we were taken to a series of stops to meet actual Jerusalem residents who explode our pre-conceived expectations. There was Pesach, who for thirty years has been in drug rehab – as a doctor, that is – but whose treatment center aims to erase the difference and the stigma between patient and doctor; on another stop we met Pina, a Haredi woman of the Litvak sect, who lives in Jerusalem’s Nahalot neighborhood and is determined to run for Jerusalem City Council. We also paid a visit to JEST, an East Jerusalem startup technology incubator for the residents of East Jerusalem (and East Jerusalem women in particular) that offers training and courses and co-working space as well as an accelerator to help ideas become businesses.
“Dissolving Barriers” was not an art work, but it was an experience, and one that will stay with me, as I recalibrate in my own mind, how among the more than 900,000 people of Jerusalem who are a third East Jerusalemite, and a third Haredi, they can all, individually and collectively be “mekudeshet” to Jerusalem. Or, more to the point, how Jerusalem is what makes them mekudeshet. And it is that connection, and that lingering impact that makes Mekedushet: Jerusalem Season of Culture, which re-invents itself every year, worth attending and coming back to again. And again.
In the end I would say that if you are an Israeli who takes Jerusalem for granted and never avails him or herself of seeing the city with different eyes, Mekudeshet is the festival for you. Similarly, for American (and other) tourists looking for an alternative way to experience Jerusalem and feel a deeper connection to the diverse voices of Jerusalem, take in the Jerusalem Season of Culture and become Mekudeshet. For more information go to http://en.mekudeshet.com/Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 Tommywood