The Israel Festival Opens Under Covid Restrictions


The Israel Festival 2020 opened this week with a sense of elation at being able to produce such an event after almost six months of no cultural events, and under the restrictions in place on social gatherings. This year’s performances reflect on issues of togetherness, community, empathy, aging, privacy and technology, democracy, and emergency – issues that have emerged with heightened relevancy and urgency during the current pandemic.


Planning the events was not without some trepidation, in case efforts and preparations would be for nothing, in case the restrictions aren’t lifted, or people didn’t buy tickets and turn up for the performances, or if the dancers or producers were put into quarantine, or… endless scenarios ran through the minds of the organizers. Nevertheless, in an innovative spirit, all parties involved kept working while complying with guidelines, and the festival opened as planned.


(Photo: Natasha Shachnes)


The Israel Festival has been running for 59 years and is known as a prestigious and groundbreaking event with a varied range of unique performances. It hosts both iconic artists and those who are making their first steps in the art world and thus allows for diverse experiences. This year, the performances were modified to fit the Covid-19 restrictions.


Such was the opening evening held on September 3rd. The performance that evening not only opened the Festival, but was also the opening night of ‘Haparsa’ (The Horseshoe) Center for Alternative Art in Jerusalem. The venue can host hundreds of spectators, and the empty chairs stood out. However, seeing even the small crowds that were able to attend brought great excitement to organizers and patrons alike. The events were run in capsules, so many people could view them, and different groups watched them each time.


(Photo: Natasha Shachnes)


Modifications to performances have been made not only to fit Covid-19 limitations, but also to enhance experiences – there are specific outdoor events in symbolic locations that comply with guidelines and allow larger groups to enjoy the performance together as a whole. One of them is the guided ‘afternoon nap’ at the Knesset (Israeli parliament), led by Ma’ayan Libman Sharon, a Jerusalem based choreographer who has run many performances in cooperation with international artists. This performance includes a tour of the Rose Park adjacent to the Knesset, while exploring the cultural and social importance of naptime and its relevance to current Israeli culture.


The highlight of this year’s performances is that they are all being streamed live to viewers, as well as professionally recorded for future on-demand viewing worldwide. This is an opportunity to allow people to enjoy the performances no matter how strict the current lockdown restrictions are in their country and to enjoy the breath of fresh air that only cultural events can provide.


Thanks to our generous supporters, we are able to keep tickets affordable this year as well and thus to make the festival and its values accessible to many people. This is especially important this year, when many people experience financial insecurity due to effects of Covid-19. They are still able to participate in cultural events and do not have to give them up or choose between them and other necessities. More than allowing more people to join the festival, this is a strong statement on the importance of culture in times of need and further promotes the festival values.


The help of our supporters and the work of our dedicated teams allow us to keep the Festival as one of the city’s most loved and thriving cultural assets and to empower local artists and businesses during this hard time.