Bahai News - Haifa's happy holidays
Monday, December 18 2000 02:46 21 Kislev 5761
Haifa's happy holidays
By Barry Davis
(December 17) - Given the current urgent need for a dosage of ethnic and
cultural togetherness, one might be forgiven for thinking that the
Holiday of Holidays Festival in Haifa is little more than a political
ploy to get the people back on the recently self-deposed prime minister's
Nothing could be further from the facts.
For a start this will be the seventh year the annual festival has been
held. And Beit Hagefen, the Jewish-Arabic cultural center responsible
for the initiative, has been promoting unity between all members of our
ethnic-mosaic-of-a-population, all year round for many moons now.
This weekend sees the official unveiling of the Holiday of Holidays
Festival in and around Wadi Nisnas and the German Colony in Haifa.
The festivities will start at noon today and, at least in terms of the
range of events laid on, it seems that the Beit Hagefen crowd have done
their best to appeal to almost everybody's entertainment tastes. There
will be liturgical music, jazz, clowns and other street acts, reggae and
dance music for the "younger crowd," art exhibitions, an antiques fair,
arts-and-crafts stalls, and events specifically for new immigrants.
Although unrelated to recent political developments across the Gilo-Beit
Jala divide and elsewhere, the significance of the timing of this year's
event is not lost on Beit Hagefen events manager and festival producer
"This country, and Haifa in particular, is home to Jews, Christians,
Moslems, Bahai, Druze, new immigrants, you name it," says Bialik. "Today
I would say that, despite everything, Haifa is an example of successful
coexistence. We try to bring people together through culture because
we're not politicians."
HOWEVER, Bialik is keen to highlight the positive impact which she hopes
the festival will have on the general social and ethnic climate.
"We are definitely using the festival to call on people to say 'yes' to
peace, tolerance, and equality," she adds, noting that, despite its
declared apolitical nature, the event is supported by the Ministries of
Culture and Absorption and the Municipality of Haifa.
"We have a very special mayor [Amram Mitzna] who addresses these aspects
In fact, the dates of the festival - starting today and continuing through
four successive weekends - were defined by religious rather than political
events. The festival spans the Hanukka, Ramadan, and Christmas seasons and
the organizers hope to attract thousands of Israelis and tourists from all
over the country to take part in the varied program of events.
The hub of the festival is Wadi Nisnas which, until around 20 years ago,
was a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood. In time, the Jewish residents
improved their socioeconomic status and moved out to more up-market areas
But the neighborhood has retained its multi-ethnic character and Beit
Hagefen is located nearby. Many of the festival activities will be based
in and around the Wadi, with an exhibition continuing until the summer of
workby artists of all cultural and religious persuasions.
A central part of the Beit Hagefen manifesto is "to work to bring people
together and to develop social and cultural ties with the Arab world."
A tour of the recently opened Coexistence Walk will be a major feature of
the festival. Visitors will follow a route around the neighborhood which
offers a view of life in the area and of the outdoor works of art which,
this year, focus on the topic of children. In the words of the Coexistence
Walk prospectus, the art "symbolizes the beginning of the new millennium
and hope for a better future."
The Walk is designed as a socio-ethnic experience as well as an artistic
"You can take a map and walk along the route by day or night - the works
of art are illuminated - and meet the local residents on a one-to-one
basis. It's hard to walk through Wadi Nisnas without being invited in for
a cup of coffee and a chat," Bialik says smiling, adding that the nature
of the art exhibition is censored only by the wishes of the locals.
"We are their guests and don't want to take over their lives," she
explains. "There was one artist who wanted to hang artistic carpets on a
wall and she wanted to paint the wall black. However, a resident called
Khalil whose balcony faced the wall said that black is a bad color so we
made sure the artist used blue and other colors. Khalil died only a week
later. I would have felt bad if we hadn't respected Khalil's wishes."
WADI NISNAS will also provide a stage for street acts from practically
every artistic discipline. Circus performers will perform stunts while
jazz and classical musicians blow, pluck, and drum their version of
artistic truth to passers-by; actors will add a theatrical aspect to
the parade, and various groups will sing songs in any number of
languages: "All the languages we speak in this country," says Bialik.
Bargain hunters or people who like to embellish their home interior
decor with some esthetics from the past will, no doubt, make a beeline
for the antiques fair which will be held on all four Saturdays of the
festival plus the two Fridays of Hanukka.
"Most antiques fans will find something they like there, I'm sure,"
Bialik says confidently.
True to its declared intent of fostering inter-ethnic peace and
harmonious coexistence, the Holiday of Holidays antiques fair will play
host to a dealer from unexpected and welcome quarters. Mutaz Jaweed
Hammuri will bring a carload of antiques from his shop in Amman, Jordan,
for the occasion.
"I will be bringing silver antiques, plates and ceramic articles and
handmade oriental dresses," explained Hammuri in a telephone interview
from Amman. "I really would like to bring more with me but I haven't got
Hammuri's wares will add a flavor of Islamic art from "the other side,"
although his product range includes some surprising items from a bit
closer to home - our home.
"I brought some of the silver items from Iraq and they are all Jewish,"
the dealer says. "They are from 60 or 70 years ago."
Hammuri will be in Haifa today and tomorrow and on each of the three
Saturdays thereafter and will bring a message of hope together with his
"I'm very glad to be coming and it would be nice to do something like
this in Amman some time," he says. "Hopefully, things will settle down
and it will become possible. We all hope for the best."
Beit Hagefen general manager Dr. Moti Peri has his own, somewhat humorous
theory about the reason for Haifa's robust interracial health and why it
is a particularly apt venue for an event that celebrates festivals of the
three main monotheistic religions.
"Mohammed never came to Haifa, and neither Moses nor Jesus, so maybe there
is less to fight over," he laughs. On a more serious note, Peri says the
festival is a special event in the country's cultural and ethnic calendar.
"This is the most comprehensive festival we have," he declares. "In
fact, it's a unique festival in global terms. There are many communities
around the world with Jews, Moslems and Christians - in places like San
Francisco, Toronto, Liverpool and London - and we have over 60,000
immigrants from the former Soviet republics who came here with the last
wave of immigrants."
As a city which prides itself on being the most ethno-religious
cosmopolitan in Israel, Haifa is using the forthcoming festival also to
provide its immigrant population from the former USSR with a stage to
display its cultural and artistic wares. The Russian element in the
festival program - "Olei Haifa" - was initiated by Ministry of Absorption
director general Boris Maftsir and applied by Lana Alter, spokesperson for
the Immigrant Absorption Authority in Haifa.
"This is the first time that immigrants are taking a major role in the
festival as part of Olei Haifa," says Alter. "This is really a project of
cultural integration. There will be painters, musicians, singers, and
actors performing during the festival."
The Holiday of Holidays program is largely an outdoor affair and there
will be a parade of different artists along the Coexistence Walk route.
"There will be theatrical parades with actors and dancers, giant
puppets, chamber and classical musicians, and circus performers, and the
works of art on display there will also include works by Russian
immigrants," Alter explains, adding that the parade will also include an
art form brought here by the immigrants.
"They were responsible for introducing ballroom dancing to Israel."
Considering the significant immigrant community in Haifa, Alter feels it
is high time they had a place in this unique event. "We're really pleased
the Ministry of Absorption asked us to participate," she says. "The
Immigrant Absorption Authority has been around for six years so it is
time we joined in."
THIS YEAR'S festival program is targeted at all ages as well catering to
cross-cultural tastes. Besides all the liturgical, classical, jazz, and
folk concerts, the music program includes a Groove Tent located in the
German Colony below the Bahai Temple's spectacularly manicured gardens.
Gil Borstein, the "man-behind-the-tent," will provide mixin' and scratchin'
high-energy DJ entertainment as well as several top reggae acts, including
Aba Shanti from London.
"The festival is a special event so I wanted to provide something suitably
different," Borstein says.
"The music will be avant garde, a sort of underground culture, like they
have in lots of cities around the world where young people go to hear
their own kind of music." Aba Shanti will be main foreign act, and the
Groove Tent will also provide a stage for a newcomer on the local reggae
scene, Camal Jamal.
"Aba Shanti is an amazing act. He was the hit of London's Notting Hill
Carnival this year. And I think Camal Jamal is going to take the reggae
scene in this country by storm," Borstein enthuses.
Despite the multi-ethnic nature of the festival, Borstein prefers to
concentrate on the age cross-section he hopes to attract to the Groove
Tent rather than addressing the racial aspect of the event.
"We want to add another cultural profile to the festival," he says. "If
Moslems and Druze and Christians want to come that will be great. But
with the current situation it's difficult to know who will turn up. I
really hope we manage to mobilize the young community in the north that
doesn't normally have access to underground culture - you only get that
in Tel Aviv.
"We really want to break out of the routine a bit and give people a
reason to be happy." Let's hope the bad regional vibes take a holiday and
the festival fulfills its promise of oneness and harmony. Amen!
©Copyright 2000, The Jerusalem Post
Page last updated/revised 121800
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