Jacob's Ladder Fest to Take Folk and Swing Fans Higher

An eclectic group of newbies will join the old-time performers at the 39th annual Israeli musical festival, beloved by English speakers.

Ilan Rosen

A jazz-and-reggae band from Austria, a Jewish folksinger from Seattle and an Israeli country-music band that sings in Hebrew yet sounds straight out of Appalachia – these are among the new acts scheduled to perform this year at the annual Jacob’s Ladder music festival in northern Israel.

Popularly known as the Anglo-Saxon Mimouna (a reference to the post-Passover Moroccan festival), the event is dedicated primarily to folk music and draws an overwhelmingly English-speaking crowd. The three-day festival will open on May 14 on the grounds of the Nof Ginossar hotel on the shores of Lake Kinneret.

Suzie Jacobson is among the hard-core group that show up year after year and have turned Jacob's Ladder into a family event.

“I went to one of the first festivals they had, then I took a break for awhile, but for the past 10 years or so, I’ve been coming back each year with my children and grandchildren,” says the former Londoner. “It must be special because my Israeli son-in-law, who usually doesn’t go easily anywhere, happily comes along with us to Jacob’s Ladder. He says the people are very nice. So now it’s become our family holiday. We don’t do camping anymore, but we do come to Jacob’s Ladder.”

Rather remarkably, Jacobson adds, even though the festival has become progressively crowded over the years, “everyone seems relaxed.” It is less the music that draws her these days, she admits, and more the dance workshops that have been offered in recent years. This year, for the first time, the festival will include a swing-dancing workshop.

Among the popular performers in the past who are joining the lineup again this year are the Abrams Brothers, a Canadian country music duo; Alexey Kochetkov, a violinist from the former Soviet Union now living in Berlin, who will be appearing with his new world music band; Libi, the American-born rocker, back on stage with her new sidekick, the Flashback; Old Man River, an eclectic Israeli-Australian folk-rock group; The Betty Bears, an Israeli swing band that performs songs of the 1920s and '30s; and The Bloomers, widely hailed as Israel’s best traditional Irish music performers.

A family affair

Jacob’s Ladder, which has been held at various venues around northern Israel over the years, marks its 39th anniversary this year. About 10 years ago, Menachem and Yehudit Vinograd, the husband-and-wife team who organize the event, began holding another, smaller Jacob's Ladder festival for folk-music lovers each year in the winter.

The Merry Poppins, one of the new groups appearing in the lineup this year, is a five-man band that plays a mix of styles, and hails from Salzburg, Austria. Ben Fisher, also performing for the first time at Jacob’s Ladder, is a new immigrant from Seattle who lives today in Jerusalem. Jane Bordeaux is the rather unusual name of the Israeli trio debuting at this year’s event; they sing in Hebrew, but otherwise have Nashville written all over them.

Typically, the May event draws a crowd of about 3,000, among them many families.

English-born Judy Admon, and her husband Malcolm, formerly from Wales, have attended Jacob’s Ladder every year, save for three, since it began.

“We started when our children were small, and we now bring our grandchildren,” says Judy. “There are 14 of us there now each year.” The original draw for her and her husband was the folk music, which they both love, but now, she says, it’s also about getting together with family and friends.

Israeli Tzvika Lekach and his American-born wife make a point of coming every few years. “Besides the music,” he says, “what makes this festival special is the atmosphere. There’s lots of good, positive energy, and it’s probably one of the few events you can go to in Israel where people actually clean up after themselves when it’s over.”