Jacob’s Ladder Festival, an Oasis of Music and Civility

The 'Anglo-Saxon Mimouna’ brings together that shrinking breed of secular, liberal Anglo-Saxon immigrants who came here decades ago with ideals and hope.

Joel Greenberg
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Festival-goers of all ages enjoying a show at Jacob's ladder, in 2013.
Festival-goers of all ages enjoying a show at Jacob's ladder, in 2013.Credit: Ilan Rosen
Joel Greenberg

Over time, as they have aged, their children, and sometimes grandchildren, have made the journey to what often seems like another planet: a kinder, gentler place where everybody gets along.

Music from the main stage wafts through the air day and night, well-behaved campers – some strumming guitars or playing flutes – hang out on the lawns, which are left spotless when the crowds go home.

The annual Jacob’s Ladder festival is almost upon us – that oasis of music and civility created by English-speaking immigrants and now adopted by increasing numbers of young native-born Israelis.

This year’s festival at Nof Ginosar will take place on May 22-24.

Many of the English speakers are members of that shrinking breed of Anglo-Saxon immigrants, secular people of a liberal persuasion who came here decades ago with ideals and hope, now facing a changed country. With graying locks and beer-bellies straining their festival T-shirts, some of these folk, resembling aging hippies, give the festival its distinctive flavor. Many come year after year.

My wife and I became regulars over time, starting way back when our children were still small and we all slept together in a tent.

On my own last year, while my youngest – now a teenager – roamed the festival grounds with friends, I recognized many familiar faces of people I don’t know, an annual encounter with fellow music buffs who look just a bit older every time we cross paths.

Originally a modest folk-music gathering, Jacob’s Ladder has now expanded to include a host of other genres, including bluegrass, Irish, blues, rock and world music − with growing throngs gathering each year at Ginosar by the western shores of Lake Kinneret.

Without the infusion of native Israelis, the festival following might have withered away, as new generations of English-speaking immigrants – more religious and more conservative – arrive with their own set of cultural preferences. But by expanding the range of its music, appealing to a younger, Israeli-born audience drawn to other musical forms, the festival has survived and thrived.

Bigger, more crowded, and yes, more commercialized, Jacob’s Ladder has lost the earlier intimacy I used to enjoy.

But it remains a remnant of another time, giving participants − for one weekend a year − a sense that they have stepped into another dimension, stealing a little peace of mind in a fraught corner of the world.

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