Klezmer Festival of Tzfat

Klezmer Festival's Beginnings

Throughout the '50s and '60, and even into the '70s and '80s, Tzfat was known among Israelis more for its secular nightlife and bohemian Artist's Colony than it was as a religious center.

Israelis came to Tzfat from Tel Aviv to walk among the galleries and enjoy the clubs and decidedly non-religious atmosphere. Many of Israel's greatest artists either lived in Tzfat or maintained summer galleries in the town, and the people that they attracted were not interested in synagogue tours or Kabbalah study.

By the late '70s, many of these artists were quite elderly, and no longer coming to Tzfat to open their galleries. At the same time, more and more religious families were settling in Tzfat, and the city was slowly turning to a more traditional way.

In 1987, Tzfat's then-mayor, Zev Pearl, had a thought. He wanted to put Tzfat on the cultural map of Israel. He wanted to attract all Israelis to come to Tzfat. And he did not want to offend the growing religious population. So he came up with the idea of hosting a yearly "Klezmer Music Festival". The music would be traditional Jewish Klezmer music, comfortable for the religious public, but "hip" enough to attract secular Israelis.

Thus was born the Tzfat Klezmer Festival which, in 2009, will be celebrating its 22nd anniversary.

Festival Set-Up

The 3-night festival is set up on open-air stages throughout the city, and entrance is free to almost all the stages (there are generally one or two stages with paid performances). Anyone who is in the city when the roads are closed may wander freely....for people coming in after 4:00p.m., when the police close the roads, parking lots are set up outside the town and buses ferry people back and forth for a small fee, since Tzfat itself doesn't have the parking capabilities to accommodate so many people).

The stages are centered in the Artists Quarter and Old City, and schedules announce to the people attending the festival which artists are appearing when and where. Everyone has their favorites, and visitors plan their programs, insuring that they will be at the festival on the evening that their favorites are performing. Meryl Reznik, Musa Berlin and Hanan Bar Sela are three of the most sought-after performers, but the stages feature Klezmer bands from Budapest, Vilna and Germany, along with Israeli artists like Adi Ran, Boris Maglinik and Yisrael Zohar.

Fans of Oaf Simchas and Aaron Raizel and other not purely Klezmer bands can attend performances by these artists, and, of course, Tzfat natives like Simply Tzfat, Dov and Ita Silberman, Dani Hadad and Meir Glazer of the Beirav Carlebach Minyan are well represented. In fact, one stage, at Gan HaIr, is set up as a center for "Carlebach Non-Stop" stage, although Carlebach music is not Klezmer, it is one of the most popular stages.

The 2009 Klezmer Festival is scheduled for August 10th, 11th and 12th.