After 11-month hiatus, Israeli cultural events come roaring back, cautiously
EntertainmentGetting somewhat back to normal

After 11-month hiatus, Israeli cultural events come roaring back, cautiously

As Israel looks to emerge from pandemic, theaters, clubs and concert halls start hosting live audiences, as long as they are vaccinated and keep health rules; museums open for all

Israel Museum director Ido Bruno (second from left) with visitors for a capsule tour of the museum in August 2020. (Photo courtesy Israel Museum via The Times of Israel)
Israel Museum director Ido Bruno (second from left) with visitors for a capsule tour of the museum in August 2020. (Photo courtesy Israel Museum via The Times of Israel)

Nearly a year after being shut by the pandemic, cultural institutions are reopening this week, bringing musicians, comedians, actors, and others back on stage for shows, in front of a live, vaccinated audience.

Theaters, concert venues, museums, and other spaces are allowed, as of Sunday night, to welcome (small) crowds back, as Israel emerges from what it hopes will be its last extended coronavirus lockdown, just in time for the holiday of Purim.

“Culture is coming back and we’re excited,” said Uzi Bairut, senior vice president at Zappa, a chain of music venues. “We thank all the artists, musicians, and stagehands for their patience and willingness to continue to make Israeli music and culture during the crisis.”

Restrictions are still in place, limiting crowd sizes and requiring face masks, temperature checks and social distancing. Many places are only open to so-called Green Pass holders, who have either been vaccinated or recovered from COVID, though museums are open to all, according to rules laid out by the Health and Culture ministries.

Nearly all theaters and clubs have been closed for the duration of the pandemic, although museums and some of the smaller venues opened briefly during the summer and late fall, at the end of the first and second lockdowns.

The move to bring back culture comes as infection rates have dropped and nearly half the country has been vaccinated against the virus, allowing the government to move toward reopening as much of the economy as possible, including malls, gyms and hotels.

Some venues planned to open as early as Monday night, including Zappa Beersheba, which was hosting rocker Aviv Geffen. The chain will put comedian Lior Schleien on stage at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Wednesday for a night of Purim humor, followed by fellow comic Reshef Levi on Thursday night, as long as a Purim-night lockdown — currently being mulled by the government — is not imposed.

Zappa was planning to open their Herzliya, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, and Amphi Shoni locations for now, with all tickets ordered online and presented by smartphone or printed beforehand, as box offices will not be opened.

Among the performers booked at their venues over the next two months are mentalist Lior Suchard, musician Asaf Amdursky, singer Rotem Cohen, Amir Benayoun, Avraham Tal, Gidi Gov, Danny Sanderson, Miri Mesika, and Rami Kleinstein.

The music club company announced they will handle ticket exchanges for events that were canceled due to the coronavirus, offering the option to use the tickets for other upcoming performances.

“We’re all about creating music and performance right now, and hope we can return to full mode soon,” said Bairut.

Jerusalem’s Khan repertory theater was putting on a full rehearsal of Noel Coward’s comedy, “Blithe Spirit” on Monday for an audience, ahead of the show’s official opening on Tuesday night.

“We brought the whole staff back two weeks ago,” said artistic director Elisheva Mazia. “We said we’d take the risk together, and we hoped we’d be able to open, and we thought the risk was fairly small.”

About 50 seats in the theater will remain empty for social distancing purposes.

“We’ve got a full calendar for the next two months,” said Mazia, who plans on running six shows per week for now.

Several municipalities are sponsoring concerts, many of them in a bid to salvage Purim celebrations, which have mostly been canceled.

In Jerusalem, singer Miri Mesika was slated to perform in the Pisgat Ze’ev concert hall on Monday night, the first live concert held by the city in months

The city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa announced plans to celebrate the return of live performances with a Wednesday concert by Nurit Galron for the city’s older residents, held outside in Ganei Yehoshua at 5 p.m. Also Wednesday, Herzliya’s city hall will host a concert by Idan Raichel, followed by Rotem Cohen and Dikla, a night later.

“Despite the restrictions, we managed to put together a wide variety of activities and events for the whole family, in public spaces and private, for Purim,” Mayor Moshe Fadlon said in a statement.

One of the first dance troupes to schedule a stage performance is Vertigo, with a new work by Noa Wertheim at their ArtFood& event on March 17 at the troupe’s Eco-Art Village in Kibbutz Netiv Halemed Hey.

The troupe, which performed in a makeshift drive-in theater during the summer, will perform “Shape On Us,” featuring dancers with and without physical disabilities on March 21 at the Jerusalem Theater.

Not all cultural institutions were rushing to open their doors. Tel Aviv’s Cameri repertory theater announced it would open April 18, with ticket sales starting March 14, while the Habima Theater, Hagesher Theater and the Israeli Opera noted they would be opening soon.

The Jerusalem Cinematheque arthouse theater will continue to operate its website with online screenings, while reopening the theater on March 1, with the Francophone film festival.

“All the restrictions that were directed by the Ministry of Culture will be fulfilled by us,” said Roni Mahadav-Levin, who manages the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Government regulations require that venues hosting screenings or live shows only allow in Green Pass holders only. Audiences will be capped at 300 people inside and 500 outdoors, using only 75% of the seating and one empty chair in between each audience member or group. All audience members must be seated, and food or open drinks may not be sold in any venue.

Museums, public libraries and galleries are open to anyone, but visitors must abide by guidelines requiring masks, social distancing and temperature checks. Crowds will be limited to one person per seven square meters (75 square feet) or 10 people per 150 square meters (some 1,615 square feet).

Many museums around the country planned to reopen on Tuesday, including the landmark Israel Museum.

The Jerusalem mainstay will feature two exhibits that opened recently, Tamara Rikman’s drawings in “Mostly Pink,” and “Salt of the Earth,” paintings of farmers and fishermen in 19th-century Holland.

“We’re pleased to open new exhibits and to reinstate art and culture in the center of Israeli public life,” said Ido Bruno, director of the Jerusalem museum, which offered capsule tours and virtual visits at different times during the pandemic.

Families can also purchase Teddy’s Code, a scavenger hunt activity named after late Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, one of the founders of the museum who needs help finding an important object, with challenges, activities and clues found throughout the galleries, sculpture garden and Shrine of the Book.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art will open Tuesday with a new solo exhibit, “Great Yellow Sun,” featuring the works of Alexander Calder, the pioneering American sculptor famed for his mobiles.

The popular Jeff Koons exhibit of balloon animals and teddy bears, which first opened one year ago, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, is still on display at the museum.

The museum also adapted its children’s activities with personal art kits inspired by the leading exhibits, as well as a scavenger hunt for the family throughout the museum, in order to keep younger visitors separate and distanced from one another.

Visitors can take themselves on self-guided tours at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum after buying tickets in advance on the website.

An exhibit on the musical Banai family is still on display, and the museum’s night experience shows will begin in March on Thursday nights. Children can enter the museum for free on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m., and all visitors must be masked and practice social distancing. PJC

This piece was first published by The Times of Israel.

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