This spiritual mountaintop town, home of deep Kabbalist teachings, is usually very serene and calm. But every August, the town hosts the International Klezmer Festival and during these days, sleepy Tsfat is swept off its feet.
Klezmer is a magical mix of Gypsy music, Ashkenazi tunes and Hassidic Eastern melodies. The word Klezmer is Hebrew for musical instruments (kley meaning vessel and zemer meaning song). The music combines the moving sounds of a clarinet with those of a fiddle, a bass and often, an accordion and drums, sounding like a human voice wailing, crying, laughing.
It is completely entrancing. People can sit spellbound with tears in their eyes one moment, and be compelled to dance in the next.
This year, the 28th annual festival will be held from August 18-20. Tens of thousands of visitors from Israel and abroad come to Tsfat to be part of the happenings. All of the concerts are free and are held on open-air stages across town.
The main stage features the biggest names in Klezmer and is televised across the country. Smaller, more intimate stages are nestled beside cobbled alleys in the Old City, where the sound of klezmer echoes across stone. The largest stage is at the Saraya, featuring famous Israeli musicians. Here, dancing is a must.
We do not yet have a schedule, but last year, there were big names including Aharon Raizel, Daniel Zamir, Eyal Shiloah, Shalom Alechem Vienna, Meril Reznik and Musa Berlin.
Aside from music, there are vendors set up along the main street which is closed to traffic for the event. The streets of Tsfat and the Saraya center parking transform into an artists’ shuk for the three nights of klezmer.
And of course there is food. Lots of goodies: from shipudim to falafel to fresh fruit juices, French crepes and much more.
For children, there is a special stage set up with magic shows, story telling and an opportunity for kids to try out the Klezmer instruments.
The music starts each night at 8 pm and every hour there is a new band on each stage with the evening winding down at 1 pm.
Aside from the official stages, every street corner or stone seat is an opportunity for a musician to sit down and play. There are many spontaneous concerts happening all over town all night.
After the music winds down and the vendors pack up, the International Masters Classes begin. In these classes, students come from all over Israel to learn with International masters and the public is invited to watch.
This year, the classes will be held in the medical school from August 22-27. There will also be free performances held across Tsfat.
Here a few tips for planning a trip to the Klezmer:
If you are coming by car, make sure you arrive in town before 5 pm as the roads close up tight. Buses still operate. If you arrive after the roads are closed, you can park in a designated lot outside Safed and be shuttled into town.
Want to stay overnight? Book a place soon as the zimmers and hotels fill up. If you are a large family or group, consider Villa Tiferet. You can hear the music of the concerts from the rooftop and have a good view of the fireworks each night at 10pm. Want to take a break form the crowds. The courtyard with its splashing fountain is a good place to relax and recharge before heading out again.
Klezmer 2015. Explore. Bring along your own instrument, a sense of adventure and open your spirit. This is Safed.