From the Red Sea Jazz Festival in February to the Hula Valley International Bird Festival in November, there’s something for everyone.
Abigail Klein Leichman
No matter when you visit Israel, you can be sure there will be festivals and other special events on tap somewhere in the country.
ISRAEL21c has chosen 30 events from February through November (December warrants a separate listing), to feature in our ultimate guide to 2015 in Israel. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it does provide a glimpse into the festive future. If you’ve got other favorite events please add them to our comments below.
Dates are subject to change, so do confirm ahead of time. And because many happenings are announced only weeks or days beforehand, check tourism websites shortly beforehand for the most updated information.
1. Shokoland, Feb. 12-14, Old Railway Station, Tel Aviv
Representatives from boutique chocolate shops will be on hand to sell their unique tastes. Israeli ice-cream makers will whip up different chocolate flavors. Chocolate beer, chocolate sculptures, and chocolate fondue sets will also be plentiful. And there will be workshops on how to roll the perfect praline or truffle.
2. The Red Sea Jazz Festival, Feb. 19-21
The fifth annual winter edition of the annual international Red Sea Jazz Festival at the Eilat port will feature 19 musical performances, a jam session and four master classes. Among the artists participating are Israeli singer-songwriter-guitarist Tamar Eisenman, the Enrico Rava Quintet from Italy and Indonesian child prodigy pianist Joey Alexander.
3. Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon, Feb. 27
This multi-course event also is a yearly citywide celebration designed for professional long-distance runners as well as beginners. Watch along the seashore and main streets of Tel Aviv as runners compete in the full marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and a Kids Mini Marathon as well as a 42K hand-cycle race for people with special needs. Some 40,000 people are expected to participate, making the Tel Aviv Marathon the most popular running event in Israel.
4. Sounds of the Old City, March 9-12
Musical bands and ensembles will perform authentic music on central stages and in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian), each matched to the character of the quarter. Visitors will follow a circular route from the Jaffa Gate. Free entrance; 7-11pm.
5. Fifth annual Jerusalem Winner Marathon, March 13
Several different tracks are available to runners and hand-cyclers, from full marathon (42.2K) to 800 meters. Some 2,500 participants are expected from all over the world. The full route takes runners past the city’s most prominent historical sites.
6. Eilat Birds Festival, March 15-22
Organized by the Israel Ornithological Center of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Eilat Birds Festival brings together birders from the world over during the peak of spring migration in southern Israel. Special packages are available at the Isrotel Agamim Hotel, which hosts the event now in its ninth year.
7. International Clown Festival, Netanya, March 18-20
Clowns from Israel and other countries will offer performances and workshops, some for free.
8. Festival of Wine & Plenty, Zichron Yaacov, March 25-26
In the picturesque Ramat Hanadiv gardens, local wineries and producers of cheese, olive oil, jams and baked confections will offer tastings, workshops and cooking demonstrations.
9. Ahava Dead Sea Festival, April 5-8
For the 19th year, the Dead Sea will be the setting for a rock music festival that many Israelis and tourists anticipate all year long. In addition to performances by Israel’s top artists, guests may take advantage of guided tours in the area. If you’re more into the indie alternative music scene, head to Ashdod during this same time period during Passover to catch the famous Boombamela Festival.
10. 18th annual Stone in the Galilee sculpting symposium, Maalot-Tarshiha, April 5-8
Fourteen of Israel’s most prominent sculptors are invited to create art for public spaces during this open-to-the-public event in the north, allowing spectators to watch the process from start to finish. There’ll be indoor exhibitions and dialogues as well.
11. Independence Day, April 22-23
From the night of April 22 through the night of April 23, Israelis will be celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut(Independence Day) with cookouts, shows, fireworks displays and other celebrations. If you’re in Tel Aviv, check out the giant fireworks display over Rabin Square and the Israel Air Force flyover above the shore.
12. Jacob’s Ladder Festival, May 14-16 and Dec. 4-5
Known as “Israel’s friendliest musical and social event,” this twice-yearly bluegrass, folk, country, blues, Irish and world music extravaganza has been taking place since 1976 on the grounds of Nof Ginosar Hotel on Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).
13. Open House Tel Aviv, May 14-16
One weekend a year, Tel Aviv opens up private spaces – designer lofts, urban villas, unique synagogues, architecturally significant public buildings, curious construction sites, plazas and gardens – to the public to explore. Check the website in April for the complete schedule.
14. Israel Festival, May 1-31
The Israel Festival offers professional performances by Israeli and international artists in Jerusalem’s distinctive venues. This 53rd year puts a spotlight on local talent appearing at the Sultan’s Pool, First Station, Israel Museum, Jerusalem Theater, International Convention Center, Hartman Institute, Gerard Behar Center, YMCA and the Ein Karem neighborhood.
15. Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, May
Held at the Cinemateque, Tel Aviv’s long-established annual festival draws international performers and audiences as well as Israeli musicians. The festival emphasizes a particular style or country in each year, but always covers the spectrum of jazz from traditional to modern, newcomers to veterans, and encompasses jazz-influenced world music and other genres.
16. Fifth annual Jerusalem Light Festival, June 3-11
Dozens of light installations, displays, shows and sales of one-of-a-kind lighting products will be featured throughout the Old City from 8-11pm each night of the festival (except Friday; and from 9 to midnight on Saturday). Free admission.
17. Israeli Opera Festival at Masada, June 4-13
This year’s festival will feature, for the first time, two fully staged opera productions: Puccini’s Tosca(June 4, 6, 11, 13) conducted by Maestro Daniel Oren and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (June 5 and12) conducted by James Judd.
18. White Night Festival, Tel Aviv, June 25
This annual all-night arts festival commemorates historic Tel Aviv’s awarding of World Heritage Site status from UNESCO in 2003. Concerts, fairs, workshops, parties, tours, games, sing-alongs, storytelling, dining specials – a full list of available events will be posted on the municipality’s website a few weeks ahead of time so you can plan out your night.
19. International Festival of Puppet Theater and Film, Holon, July 26-31
Featuring puppet makers and artists from Israel and around the world, this festival has been held annually since 1995 at the Puppet Theater Center in Holon. On the schedule are plays, shows and story-telling from Israel and abroad; evening screenings of feature films with puppets, documentaries about puppeteers, TV shows and commercials featuring puppets; exhibitions about theater puppets and puppet artists; In workshops and master classes for adults and children. In the plaza outside there will be free street performances.
20. Karmiel Dance Festival, July 28-30
About 5,000 dancers from Israel and abroad annually take part in more than 100 events and performances at this huge annual festival in Karmiel, a central Galilee town between Acre (Akko) and Safed (Tzfat). For folk-dance teachers and enthusiasts from abroad, there’ll be an Israeli folk dance course given in English from July 20-31, including sightseeing and admission to the festival. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
21. Jaffa Nights, four Saturday nights in August
The streets of Old Jaffa are closed to traffic and become the scene of Israel’s largest street festival for this four-week extravaganza. Stages and performance areas take over the squares and lanes, and some of Israel’s leading performers put on free street theater, concerts and arts-and-crafts exhibitions. The party often lasts until dawn.
22. 40th annual Jerusalem International Arts & Crafts Fair (Hutzot Hayotzer), August 10-22
Look and buy: The handiworks of artists from Israel and 30 countries around the world will be displayed in the artists’ colony near Sultan’s Pool just outside the Old City walls. Every night is capped by a live concert by one of Israel’s most celebrated performers. It runs every evening from 6-11pm except Friday (and after sundown Saturday). Entrance fee; special children’s activities.
23. 28th annual Klezmer Festival, Safed, Aug. 18-20
Held in the mystical Galilee city of Safed, this musical event showcases dozens of artists performing “Jewish soul music” on eight stages and in the ancient cobbled alleyways of the city. Also: an outdoor arts-and-crafts sale, tours and children’s events.
24. Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, Sept. 1-4
This annual event brings together international and Israeli artists in performances under the stars, opposite Jerusalem’s ancient walls and in houses of prayer. Audiences may take part in “A Night Stroll” at the Tower of David, comprising performances, ceremonies and a series of “Testimony Encounters” — guided tours that trace the sacred sounds that play year-round in Jerusalem.
25. Speedo Sea of Galilee Swim, Sept. 19
About 12,000 swimmers of all ages and nationalities are expected at this largest Israeli amateur sports event, now in its 62nd year. Choose between routes of 1.5 and 3.5 kilometers.
26. Haifa International Film Festival, late September
Founded in 1983, this is Israel’s oldest annual international film festival. Held on Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the festival offers close to 300 screenings, many of which are world premieres. Outdoor events, workshops and film competitions are part of the festivities.
Other 2015 film festivals: Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv, May 7-16; Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, June 6-15; Cinema South Film Festival, June 7-12 at the Sderot Cinemateque; Jerusalem Film Festival, July 9-19; Spirit Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, Oct. 22-24.
27. Tel Aviv Furniture Exhibition, October 11-17
If you love interior design, you need to be at the annual Furniture Exhibition at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center to see the latest collections of more than 120 Israeli and international companies including Beitili, Hollandia, Ziv Kitchens, Natuzzi, Nicoletti, Dr. Gav, Aeroflex, Ultima, Simmons, Night Sleep, Etzmaleh, House Inn and Zaga. For the first time, the show will provide a stage for companies specializing in home styling, accessories and styling various spaces in the home. Free admission.
28. Tel Aviv Water Games, Oct. 15-19
This inaugural international LGBT sporting event and cultural festival will welcome teams from around the world competing in swimming, diving, rowing, beach volleyball and other water and waterside sports. Also planned are sunset yoga and acrobatics, bicycle tours of the city and late-night celebrations.
29. Open House Jerusalem, Oct. 22-24
Brought to you by the same production team as Open House Tel Aviv (see item 12), Open House Jerusalem provides a rare peek inside some of the city’s most unusual edifices. Check the website in early September to see the full schedule of offerings.
30. Fifth annual Hula Valley International Bird Festival, mid-November
Tens of thousands of migrating cranes descend on the Agamon Hula Ornithology and Nature Parkevery November, along with at least 200 other species of feathered friends – 500 million in all — headed to their winter homes in Africa from Europe and Asia.
Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.