Must-See Summer Festivals in Israel

Opera, Jazz, Klezmer and More On Tap in 2012

Five Festivals: The annual Dead Sea opera festival is only one of the summer festivals going on across Israel in 2012.
courtesy of masada dead sea opera festival
Five Festivals: The annual Dead Sea opera festival is only one of the summer festivals going on across Israel in 2012.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 09, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
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Tourists heading to Israel hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2012. From January through March, 637,200 tourists arrived in Israel, up 2% compared with the same period last year.

While part of the uptick is due to factors out of Israel’s control, such as economic recovery, large numbers of tourists are being drawn by cultural and sporting events. That’s especially the case during the summer, when Israel’s festival season kicks off with hundreds of offerings for all tastes and interests. From the Galilee in the north to Eilat in the south, here are the Forward’s top five picks for summer festivals:

Israeli Wine-Tasting Festival

Remember those childhood tales about the magic cup that never runs dry — and holds whatever beverage you most desire? Well, from July 30 to August 2, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (www.imj.org.il) will make that myth a reality for grown-ups.

At the Israeli Wine-Tasting Festival, participants can pay 80 shekls, or about $20, for a glass at the entrance, and representatives of 55 Israeli wineries will keep it topped all night. Many wineries erect stalls and mock cellars for the event, where winemakers and connoisseurs chat about production methods.

Attendees are invited to relax in the museum gardens, which are normally closed at night, and even explore some museum exhibitions. There will be jazz bands, cheese tastings and stalls selling food from Jerusalem restaurants. Most of the wines, and all of the food, will be kosher.

“We find that increasingly, in recent years, the wineries bring their very best wines, which means that you can end up drinking $50 or $100 bottles,” said Ran Toren, the festival organizer.

Toren, who owns three wine shops in Jerusalem, launched the festival with a friend in 2004. “It was [during] the Second Intifada, and we just wanted to do something enjoyable for the people of Jerusalem,” he recalled. Today, the Israeli Wine-Tasting Festival is a major event on the calendar of kosher wine enthusiasts, attracting 15,000 people, some 30% of whom typically come from abroad.

International Klezmer Festival

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the International Klezmer Festival (www.klezmerf.com or for information, 011-972-4-6927509) fills the stone buildings and winding alleys of Safed with music in August. Safed, in the Galilee, is known as Israel’s mystical town, making it a charming setting for klezmer. “With its beautiful streets and history of Kabbalah, Safed has a very special energy, and when it is brought to life with music, it takes on a really special atmosphere,” said Chanan Bar-Sela, the festival’s artistic director.

The festival will feature eight stages with different acts starting on the hour. At a “Klezmerim for Kids” stage, children can try klezmer instruments and watch demonstrations of unusual instruments. Youngsters can also enjoy a magic show, storytelling and plays. Adults can take part in workshops and music-themed tours. The finale of the festival will take place at Yad Vashem (www.yadvashem.org) in Jerusalem, where performers will pay tribute to the music and musicians lost in the Holocaust.


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