Summer in Israel is going to be hot this year — and not just because of the mercury level.
One year after the Gaza war robbed Israelis of their favorite outdoor season, causing festivals to be nixed and casting a pall of gloom and uneasiness over the events that nevertheless did go on, Israelis are eager to make this summer count.
In Tel Aviv, Israel’s everyday party central, one of the flagship events of the summer is the annual Pride Week, which will kick off this year on June 7. The city’s major thoroughfares will be festooned with rainbow flags and its beaches and night haunts will suddenly find themselves packed with shirtless, hairless Adonises speaking every possible language.
Thanks to a slew of new low-priced fares from Europe and Tel Aviv’s rising prominence on the international travel circuit, Gay Pride Week in the White City has become a bona fide destination for the LGBT set and the city has embraced its newfound rainbow-hued fame. From June 7 to 12, more than 50 events will pack the city calendar, all celebrating free love and the judgment-free embrace of sexual freedom and orientation. The finale will be the city’s annual Gay Pride Week, which will crawl from Gan Meir Park, through café-packed Bograshov Street and culminate at the seashore. Expect parades, parties — and, of course, a lot of taut, tanned skin.
Just in time for the hangover from Pride Week to lift, Tel Aviv will celebrate again on June 25 with its annual White Night festival. The sundown-to-sunrise explosion of parties and nightlife is a hallowed tradition here, where the city will stay up all night and enjoy an inverse of its daytime hubbub. Under a bright white moon, there will be jazz concerts and dance parties in city squares; lectures and kid-themed events at museums and cafes; outdoor rock music and performance art along the beach; and wee-hour specials at nearly every restaurant and bar. If you’ve chugged your Red Bull and managed to make it all the way to sunrise, you can play like a real Tel Avivian, and complete the night with a 5 a.m. sunrise yoga session on the city’s soft beach.
For those craving a slightly more highbrow way to embrace the hot months, Jerusalem is offering a calendar that’s absolutely jam-packed with special events.
The Israel Museum, one of the leading archeological and art institutions in the world, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. You can celebrate a half-century of cultural greatness by checking out two special installations at the museum’s Shrine of the Book, the iconic white bell-shaped shrine that holds the precious Dead Sea Scrolls. The first is a display examining the history of the shrine itself, with a focus on its wacky architecture and flagrant modernism. For the second, you may want to bring your magnifying glass — the world’s smallest Hebrew Bible, the Nano Bible created by the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, will go on view for the first time.
After you’ve gotten your academic fix, the Israel Museum will also help you let your hair down — there are concerts and outdoor parties planned to celebrate its golden anniversary. But the best way to boogie with the museum is at the Jerusalem Wine Festival, which will be held Aug 17 to 20 in the museum’s lovely stone garden (home to its famous “Ahava” statue) and host every single big name in Israeli bacchanalia. For those who prefer suds to shiraz, the Jerusalem Beer Festival will hop its way into town the following week, so don’t despair.
In July and August, Jerusalem will also play host to its annual Season of Culture festival, an absolute explosion of art and creativity that will seep into all corners of this lively, ancient city. Highlights will include “Frontline,” an exploration of alternative music that will include a pop-up radio station and dozens of visiting guest musicians from abroad; “Contact Point,” a series of late-night encounters at the Israel Museum that bring together artists and visitors in surprising dialogue; and “Under the Mountain,” a new public art festival in which art is thrust into the strongholds of Israel’s politik — its parliament and government buildings — in a bid to re-establish the balance of power between the state and its citizens.
For those who prefer something a bit more quirky, Jerusalem also won’t disappoint: The Formula 1 race in Jerusalem has yet to lock down a set date, but at some point this summer, expect again to see wildly flashy race cars roaring past some of the holiest sights of the Old City; the Piyyut Festival at the city’s Beit Avi Chai will fill the building with all types of Arab-Jewish fusion music from Sept. 10 to 13; and the International Arts and Crafts Fair Jerusalem (speak like a local and refer to it by its Hebrew name, Hutzot HaYotzer) will see Jerusalem’s outdoor spaces overtaken by dozens of skilled artisans and craftspeople who will not just sell their goods, but also make them live in front of an adoring public.
A true highlight of the summer event calendar in Israel is the Israel Opera Festival, which is anchored by its yearly show-stopping performances at Masada but in recent years has also branched out to Jerusalem and ancient Acre. At the foot of majestic Mount Masada during the first two weeks of June, the Israel Opera will mount Puccini’s Tosca in an impossibly grand production that brings a veritable village of production and castmembers into the heart of Israel’s desolate desert. Tosca will be complemented two weeks later by performances of The Elixir of Love by Donizetti at Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool, an arena that dates back centuries. And come September, the opera continues its journey throughout Israel, bringing to life Le Nozze di Figaro in the heart of that city’s Crusader ruins.
“The best thing about Israel in the summer, for me, is that there is so much to do at night,” says Elianna Bar-El, a California native who now lives in Tel Aviv and serves as editor in chief of Time Out Israel, a city guide and cultural bible that is published monthly. “Israelis are casual anyway, and they don’t like to get dressed up. In the summer, it’s so hot and you are at the beach all day, and then at night you can just stay casual and find so many amazing options. From the afternoon until late at night, people are just out and doing things, enjoying the festivals and events, and the liveliness that is summertime here.”
If your plans take you to the north of the country, make sure not to miss the Karmiel Dance Festival from July 28 to 30, in which that quaint Galilee city will feature 80 performances and more than 5,000 dancers, all reveling in the beauty of Israeli folk movement.
Not far from Karmiel, in the rolling pastures of Kibbutz Kfar Blum, chamber music lovers will get a kick out of the Voice of Music Festival, happening this year from July 16 to 20, and bringing together Israel’s best chamber musicians with dozens of visiting musicians.
And when it gets really hot in the Holy Land, don’t try to escape it. Plow straight into the heat in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, where temperatures can easily scrape 100 degrees F, but the cool deep waters of the Red Sea offer a perfect escape. At the end of August, at the very height of Israel’s dog days of summer, Eilat hosts the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival, four of the best days of the year for Middle Eastern jazz lovers and a true boon for culture in this otherwise sleepy vacation city. This year, the music will kick off on Aug. 23.
If you’re exhausted just from looking at the long list of summer events in Israel, have no fear — some of the best moments during Israel’s hot months are found by simply strolling this little country’s packed streets, and embracing the heat the way the locals do: with good food, good conversation and plenty of air conditioning.
Another tried and true trick is taking it easy when the sun is high, and then packing your schedule after dark. Back in Tel Aviv, the southern enclave of Jaffa has picked up on the trend, transforming its beloved flea market into an uber-chic urban retreat during summer Saturday nights. Called “PishPishuk,” a cute inversion of the words “flea” and “market,” the event is marked by late-night restaurant menus, street performers and jugglers, all crowding into the market’s cobblestone alleys and rejoicing together under hundreds of twinkling lights. With the heat giving way to cool Mediterranean breezes and every step bringing new wisps of conversation and snatches of music, it’s a positively magical way to chill out in the height of summer.
“Nothing is better than Israel in the summer,” says Leron Adler, a Haifa native who works as a waitress in a Tel Aviv café while putting herself through art school. “I don’t really try to plan anything, I just take it easy and let the days unfold. Because no matter what you do, just walking home or strolling to visit friends, events in the summer — they find you.”
Debra Kirschenbaum is an Israel-based freelance journalist.
White Night in Tel Aviv fills the moonlit streets with revelers. Courtesy Israel Tourism
The Piyyut Festival at Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai will fill the building with all types of Arab-Jewish fusion music. Courtesy Beit Avi Chai
The Karmiel Dance Festival features more than 5,000 dancers. Photo by Hanay.