Summer is the time for festivals of all kinds. Besides the the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival at Shavuot, the Israel Festival – which ended yesterday, June 14th – and the Opera Festival at Masada, last Thursday saw the start of the annual Hebrew Book Week. I got off to a good start, with a purchase of 4 books for 99 shekels – about $25 or £16 at current exchange rates – not bad when you consider that the average price of a new Hebrew paperback is between NIS92 – 98!!!
Unfortunately, it seems the law is about to be changed. Under pressure from leading Israeli authors, the proposed Law for the Protection of Literature and Authors will make it illegal to offer books for sale at less than the recommended retail price, during the first eighteen months after publication. An exception will be made during Hebrew Book Week and during the spring and autumn festival periods, but even then, the permitted discount will be no more than 10%.
As the sister of a published author, I can sympathise to a certain extent with the writers, who, living in a small country such as Israel, have to contend with a limited market (how many people read modern Hebrew literature in the original language, after all?) and therefore, with very little income from royalties. On the other hand, the average price of a new Hebrew book is such as to make it a luxury item. Since the beginning of the year, I have bought about a dozen new Hebrew books – all of them at discount prices, by virtue of having joined Steimatzky’s Book Club. Steimatzky, I should explain, is one of the two largest bookstore chains in Israel. I doubt whether I would have done so without the discount. This is not to say I would no longer buy Hebrew books. However, if the proposed law does come into effect, I will simply wait eighteen months after publication – or borrow them from someone else.
There’s something else I don’t understand either. One would expect there to be some correlation between the price of a new book and the printing costs. Why, then, is the recommended retail price the same whether a book is 422 pages long, or merely 222?!
On a lighter note (no pun intended), another festival which ended last night was the Festival of Light in and around the Old City of Jerusalem. The festival, now in its fourth year, brought tens of thousands of tourists and locals to the walls and alleyways of the ancient city, where international artists amazed and entertained them with light shows, shadow plays, and with new and unexpected ways to look at the city.
I myself went to see it on Sunday and in two and a half hours, managed to see only a fraction of what there was to see. I’d like to share it with you.
On approaching the Jaffa Gate, the main entrance when coming from the western side of the city, the first installation one encounters is a cupola similar in size and shape to an Italian Renaissance structure (that’s what the brochure says, anyway). The Cupola – 23 metres high, 20 metres in diameter and comprising 62,000 LED lights, was presented by Luminarie de Cagna from Italy. As I said, it was supposed to represent a structure from the Italian Renaissance. Local Arab residents, however, immediately assumed it to be a representation of the El Aqsa Mosque – though, if anything, I would have said it bore a closer resemblance to the Dome of the Rock. Judge for yourselves:
Entering the Jaffa Gate, I found myself in Omar Ibn El-Hatib Square, where a lady in fanciful costume posed for photos with a two-legged dragon/horse:
Turning left, I passed the Citadel of David Museum. Following the crowds, I arrived at the Armenian Quarter, where the Pitaya Group from France presented “Poleen”, a hybrid between pollen and jellyfish. I could see the resemblance to jellyfish, but the pollen part escapes me:
In fact, in some ways, it rather resembles a huge spider hovering menacingly overhead, don’t you think?
Proceeding further down the Street of the Armenian Patriarchate, and passing through a tunnel where lights danced on the walls and ceiling, one reaches the Armenian Cathedral of St. James. I have visited there once, when I attended the wedding of a colleague, but it was closed on Sunday evening and the gatekeeper wouldn’t allow anyone in. A pity – the small, arched gateway looks so enticing, hinting at treasures within:
Towards the end of the Street of the Armenian Patriarchate, where fairy lights briefly illuminated trees and then disappeared in a shower of sparks, was a presentation by Jan Ising and Bartosz Navarra from Germany, entitled “Faces of Jerusalem”. A huge, three dimensional mask presented a stream of ghostly faces, seemingly suspended above the ancient city walls:
Passing the Zion Gate, main entrance to the Jewish Quarter, the “Visual Piano” presentation by German, Israeli and Turkish musicians combined music with a constant play of light on the massive city walls. I was happy to see that the present tension in Israeli-Turkish relations had no effect on this collaboration. Let the Israel-haters such as the obnoxious Richard Silverstein, who wrongly predicted that Israel would cave-in over the Mavi Marvara affair and agree to pay massive compensation to the families of the Turkish terrorism supporters, choke on their own bile.
Entering the Jewish Quarter, and arriving at the newly-restored Hurva Synagogue, I was struck by the noise, the crowds, the chattering of teenagers and the vast numbers of children running to and fro. In the square facing the synagogue, craftsmen had set up booths displaying their wares, all of them somehow connected with light. There was, for example, a lady selling silk flowers illuminated from within by battery-operated fairy lights. The effect was quite magical – as was the sight of the Hurva Synagogue itself, towering above the square in all its new-old glory:
The presentation in front of the synagogue was an ingenious piece of interactive art, in which the light sculpture reacts to the position of the viewer so that movement by the viewer activates the presentation. I haven’t a clue how it works, but it’s a clever idea, don’t you think?
My next stop was the Cardo, the main street of Jerusalem during the Roman period. Here, I found Shadow Story – a presentation in light and shadow of the tale of Hansel and Gretel.
After that, since I was so near to the Western Wall, I decided to go there. The Wall is always floodlit at night, and even without any “extras”, such as shadow play or fairy lights, the interaction of light and shadow there, with the Dome of the Rock in the background, creates an unforgettable image.
From the Wall, I had planned to take a shortcut through one of the Arab markets, now closing down for the night, to the Jaffa Gate. A burst sewage pipe which had flooded one of the streets, making passage through it extremely unpleasant, put paid to that idea and instead, I retraced my steps through the Jewish Quarter where, at night, the Old City takes on a magical, mysterious aura even on a regular weeknight. The walls turn to gold and it isn’t hard to conjure up all sorts of myths and legends.
Even the entrance to a private house can seem like the gateway to the Secret Garden!
All in all, I think I managed to see less than half of the many presentations by artists from all over the world, who thumbed their noses at the BDS crowd and provided hours of pleasure to the people of all faiths and all nationalities who flocked to see the beauty of Jerusalem. I hope you have enjoyed this brief virtual tour, as much as I have enjoyed showing you around, giving you a glimpse of my city. Maybe next year, you’ll come and see it for yourselves.
Meanwhile, Shabbat Shalom. Have a wonderful weekend.