The only festival of its kind in the Middle East, the annual Culture of Peace features artists and audiences from across the societal spectrum.
By Rivka Borochov
In the midst of Arab uprisings in Israel’s neighboring countries, "The Show Must Go On" could well have been the motto for late May’s Culture of Peace Festival at Tzavta Hall in Tel Aviv, which since 2001 has been a stage set with a backdrop of peace-making through music, art and theater.
Events producer Eli Grunfeld directs the annual Culture of Peace of Festival.
Events producer Eli Grunfeld, founder and director of the annual festival, explains that this year there was no budget to pay the artists. On a pledge of money from ticket sales, a number of dedicated artists agreed to perform anyway. "I was extremely grateful that performers this year were able to take on projects for this important event, even without the promise of revenues," he says. "This year it was the festival of the artists. All agreed to come to the festival and perform and show their interest in peace."
Some of those on the bill were well-known soloists, others up and coming. The biggest excitement came from the women’s choir of Jaffa, a group comprised of Israeli Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Grunfeld relates. Called the Shirana Choir the women presented "Songs to Drive Away the Darkness" and featured guest singers Galit Giat, Nouran Mas’oud and Lubna Salama.
The program also included presentations such as "Prayers of Israel, Melodies of Ishmael" led by the Galilee Andalusian Orchestra and sung by cantor Lior Elmalich. Jewish prayers set to Arabic music, says Grunfeld, open minds and hearts. Jews may not be aware that much of Jewish world music was inspired by rhythms and traditions from the Arab world.
Diverse cultural mosaic
The festival’s manifesto is to create a common ground for artists with different religious beliefs and cultures. It includes musical performances, street performances, theater for kids and multicultural, multimedia aspects. In Israel, where cultures remain distinct and separate, the event inspires a peaceful dialogue between those who might not have other opportunities to meet one another.
Grunfeld says he got a particularly good feeling from the atmosphere generated by the audience, who came from the entire rich and diverse cultural mosaic that makes the Israeli community so special.
A feeling of "change is in the air," says Grunfeld, who in March organized an artists’ support event for the Egyptians demonstrating at Tahir Square in Cairo. Some of the same artists played in the Culture of Peace Festival. "Individuals now feel they can show their feelings and make a certain change," he notes.
The annual weeklong festival is held every May in Tel Aviv, and sometimes Grunfeld takes the show on the road to cities such as Nazareth, Sachnin, Acre and Haifa.
To meet its basic production needs, the Culture of Peace Festival is supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Havatzelet Foundation. It is considered the only festival of its kind in the Middle East.