Israel's Good Name

Klezmer Festival

In Galilee, Israel on August 21, 2012 at 7:35 PM

As the title might suggest, the famed Klezmer Festival has begun. Every year, for 25 years now, Tzfat (or as it is often written: Safed) hosts the Klezmer Festival, an international music event usually three days long. Thousands of people come every year, from around Israel mostly, but even some of the performing artists hail from the international sector. I was fortunate to have attended some of the 23rd annual festival (back in 2010) and now I had the opportunity of seeing some of the 25th, the current festival. I was already in Tzfat when the festival began, showing some folks around the tourist attractions, so when the sun dropped behind the mountains, with still two hours till the festivities, I was camera-ready (click to enlarge):

The sun sets over the mountains

We descended from the Citadel area and had a bite to eat, the crowds starting to intensify as the festival entered into the pre-show period. With some free time at hand we slowly meandered down the brick and stone streets taking in the sights under the cover of the ink-black sky and the orange-tinted street lamps.

Entering into the festivities

One light decoration, high up on a stone wall side of a building, caught my eye – just one of the many music-themed ornamentations and trimmings that are scattered throughout Tzfat. Here it is, the best my camera can muster for a night-time shot:

Light decorations

Before long, after passing the Kikar Sadeh stage – one of seven outside, we walked through the Artists’ Quarter and sat down at the Gan HaKasum stage before the musicians began. We got decent seats, to the side, and waited for the Ransas Ensemble to set up. Once they began, the lively tunes filling the wedge-shaped amphitheatre, I stood up in the back and took a semi-panoramic photograph – just look at the beautiful setting!

Ransas Ensemble performing at the Gan HaKasum

We stayed and listened to them for a while, some three or four songs (as well as watching the loud fireworks which were done from the Citadel area). I marvelled at the fast pace of the violin and the rapid toots of the flute so much so that I descended some levels to sit beside the fence, to photograph the flutist. Here it is, raw talent entertaining the masses:

Member of the Ransas Ensemble

After the third or fourth song we returned to where we started, to the next stage in our path – the Kikar Sadeh stage – where Amhia, I believe, was playing. They were a bigger group than the Ransas Ensemble and therefore had a bigger stage, and a bigger audience. Due to my simpleton camera, and the fog machine, some of my pictures come out less than perfect – this is an example of one, but, at least, it gives an adequate indication of what the stage looked like at the time:

Amhia performing at the Kikar Sadeh stage

We stayed and watched them for a bit, pressed against the cool stone wall of an art gallery as the crowd surged by. The music was festive, as it should be, and the “leader” of the group made me laugh at his amusing appearance and dress, but there was oh-so-much more to be seen and we didn’t want to stay out forever (having spent the entire day touring Tzfat). So we continued on, passing the countless vendors of traditional festival foods. One particular treat is the crêpe, made on a hot, flat, circular cooktop and then slathered with chocolate spread or Nutella. The crêpe is then folded into a triangle and popped into a wedge-shaped pocket and is eaten “on the go”. I enjoyed some of my sister’s crêpe at the 23rd festival but did not opt for another go at the overly-sweet Israeli treat. The next stage we approached was the Ma’ayan HaRadom (after passing the Kahn of the White Donkey which was not yet fully set up). There, in a quieter part of the Festival – the quietest we saw all evening – was a small musical group playing more Klezmer music. We stood on an elevated sidewalk and watched from above.

More Klezmer music on magnificent stages

And then we headed for the lights in the sky, the grand stage of the Saraya (Outside). The Saraya is a large stone building that was once the palace of the Bedouin governor of Tzfat and then the administrations building for the Ottomans when they took control of the area. There is a clock tower that juts up on the north-western corner of the structure. The bright lights that poked the sky were seen from other areas of the Old City, where the other stages were scattered about, and when we finally saw the lights, it was very impressive. Again, woe is to my camera for it cannot photograph very well at night.

Outside the Saraya

Here is another shot of the Saraya Outside stage – the colour scheme changed but the same artists were on-stage:

Another shot of outside the Saraya

After seeing just one more stage – the Saraya Inside, these two wildly packed with hordes of Klezmer-loving Jews, we continued on towards the parked car that was to take us out of the city, the hands of the clock pointing upwards – apparently aghast at the late bedtimes of the local children who ran about eating cotton candy and chocolate-filled crêpes. As we walked away from the Saraya we chanced upon the studio trailer of the IDF Radio and they were just finishing an interview. The broadcast was not only heard throughout the country but was also conveniently sounded on speakers just outside the portable studio. Here it is, the army’s own radio station and the soldiers covering the 25th International Klezmer Festival of Tzfat:

Army radio covering the festival

For more info on the Festival: Hebrew and English are both available, just click on your preferred language.

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