What Grows on the Temple Mount? Find Out in Jerusalem's Season of Culture

Shany Littman
Shany Littman
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The abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta.Credit: Tal Shahar
Shany Littman
Shany Littman

Four festivals and two separate events are on the menu in the fifth annual Jerusalem Season of Culture, which will run from July 27 to September 4. Despite the singularity of the various events and their allure for many Jerusalemites and others, the festival’s artistic director, Itay Mautner, and its executive director, Naomi Bloch Fortis, decided to reduce the scope of the Season of Culture this year and concentrate on the Sacred Music Festival, which will also include non-musical events.

According to Mautner, the decision to forgo some of the events of past years is intended to allow for greater precision in those that will be held and to reach larger audiences, bring about intercultural activity and generate greater resonance in the city.

The Season of Culture will kick off with the In-House Festival (July 27-30), whose artistic director is Dafna Kron. This consists, as the website (www.jerusalemseason.com/en) notes, of “a series of intimate performances – in various locations throughout the city – that will shine new light on the venue, the artistic creation and you, the audience, and continue to resonate long after the curtains have come down.” For example, one of the seven events within this framework offers a tour of the abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta, which lies at the western entrance to Jerusalem. The tour will be accompanied by an audio work accessible via an app developed especially for the event, which each participant will be able to listen to via his mobile phone and headphones. The voices tell the village’s story from the period in which it was the home of Palestinians until their expulsion in 1948, the Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Kurdistan who were subsequently housed there and the site’s later metamorphosis into a drug rehab center and a magnet for homeless people and young Hasidim who come to immerse themselves in the village’s spring.

Lifta is slated to undergo a radical transformation, partly related to a tunnel that was dug under it through which government ministers can escape in an emergency, and to a grandiose plan being promoted by the Jerusalem Municipality to build luxury residences, hotels and shopping venues in the green valley. The event’s creators hope to stir a public discussion that will lead the 
powers that be to rethink this plan. The Lifta event is a collaborative production of the In-House Festival and an interdepartmental project of the Jerusalem-based Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. The work will continue to run after the festival as well, under the auspices of the Hazira Performance Art Arena.

In another event of the In-House Festival – “The Marlyn Lexicon” (evenings, July 27-30) – the poet and ultra-Orthodox film critic and researcher Marlyn Vinig, who is also a teacher and the mother of seven children, will hold a dialogue in the living room of her home in the Romema neighborhood with the journalist Shifra Cornfeld. Vinig will talk about the universe of concepts through which she navigates, which challenge the accepted views of Orthodoxy and secularity, self-fulfillment, creativity and scholarship. (Vinig was the subject of an interview in Haaretz on July 10: www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.665217.)

In “The Hearing” (at the Israel Democracy Institute), a work created by Renana Raz, four actors will make use of the actual recording of the hearing to which the philosophy teacher Adam Verete, from the ORT School in Tivon, was summoned prior to his dismissal. Verete was fired in the wake of a letter one of his students sent to the minister of education complaining that Verete was expressing “extreme left-wing opinions” against the state and the army in his classes. The 
actors will not act out the event but listen to it through headphones and then repeat, in real time, what they hear. Thus, according to the website, “By re-verbalizing the text with new voices and role reversals, the transcript is cut off from more obvious contexts and preconceived notions, and its multiple layers are exposed, creating a pure moment of renewed listening.”

Other events that will take place in the In-House Festival framework are “Rent Party,” described as a “nomadic house party, Harlem style,” in the colorful Nahlaot neighborhood, featuring the all-female swing trio The Hazelnuts; “Radio Lab,” also in Nahlaot, which will launch the third season of the podcast “Israel Story” in the presence of the series’ creators, guests and audience; nighttime wanderings in a public library in the center of Jerusalem, in which performance artists will be lurking between the bookshelves; and “Sami’s Mother,” an event in Sharafat – a “transparent” Palestinian village off the main road between the post-1967 neighborhoods of Malha and Gilo – in which Umm Sami (Sami’s mother), who founded the village’s Women’s Cooking Collective, and theater director Hannah Vazana Greenwald will lead an evening of rolling vine leaves accompanied by personal stories and oral history.

A one-night stand, “Contact Point,” will take place on August 6 from 8 P.M. until 3 A.M. at the Israel Museum, featuring performance artists and musical shows. During August 10-13, an event called “Knock Knock” – billed as “an intimate event for multiple participants in a hotel” – will take place at the Prima Royale Hotel in Jerusalem. Those attending will get a room for one hour during which actors, musicians and others “will create a personal one-time experience for each participant.” What that experience is, the event’s creators, Michal Vaknin and Dafna Kron, are not saying.

The “Under the Mountain” festival will be held from August 25-28, under the artistic direction of Omer Krieger. This year, the festival “will unfold in ever widening circles around the center of the world - the Temple Mount,” according to the website. The idea is to deal with this historically and politically charged site from new and surprising angles, and the list of events, 20 in number, bears this out.

The artist Yael Bartana will present “Holy Simone,” an audiovisual installation set in the year 3615, the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the birth of an imaginary saint, Simone. Bartana will also screen her short film “Inferno,” about the building of the Third Temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil, by a neo-Pentecostal church, according to the structure’s biblical specifications. In the same event (August 26, On the Seam Museum), Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 feature film “The Holy Mountain” will be screened, about a Jesus-like young man who embarks on a journey through a psychedelic night of religious and secular rites. On the way he meets mystics who represent the planets of the solar system. Together, shedding their material possessions and worldly desires, they form a group that sets out to find the holy mountain, supplant its gods and become immortal themselves.

Also within this framework, the performance artist Santiago Sierra will present an event titled “Veterans of the Wars of Israel” – previously staged, in local contexts, in the United States, Germany, Ukraine and elsewhere – in which reservists act as living monuments to violent occurrences.

“The Pit and the Base,” a performance by Yonatan Levy, moves between the subterranean pool of St. Helena’s Coptic Orthodox Church, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Border Police Company C base that overlooks the Temple Mount. In another event, the artist Shasha Dothan will live for a week in a hotel room in the Old City and will ascend the Temple Mount every morning, documenting the journey via video, performance and painting. “You are invited to join her daily tour or visit the temporary studio [in the hotel] where she will share impressions from her wanderings and meet people who will present her with ideas, objects and thoughts.”

Two guided tours are scheduled for the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary). One, with Dr. Anwar Ben Badis of Al-Quds University, will address the names of the buildings on the mount from a linguistic perspective. The other, with Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir, chief scientist of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Givat Ram, centers on “what grows on the mount.” Whether these two events will take place depends on the political situation – the organizers say they hope to be able to implement them. Other tours in the region will be led by the journalist Sliman al-Shafi, dealing with ideological violence around the mount in the 20th century; by the poet and scholar of mysticism Haviva Pedaya – “a tour of the Jewish subconscious in order to understand what lies at the heart of the temple”; by Ami Meitav, a former Shin Bet security coordinator for the Old City, on the multiple security cameras and other systems of surveillance and control around the Temple Mount; and by Khaled Khatib, director of the Palestinian Heritage Museum, Jerusalem, who will lead participants in a walk through the Muslim Quarter and talk about everyday life in the shadow of the mount.

In addition, the Season of Culture offers two music festivals: “Frontline,” featuring “off-stream music” from Jerusalem (August 17-20), and, rounding off the season, its largest festival, the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, from August 30 to September 4.