Alongside the teeming masses of tourists and audiences for headlining popular Israeli performers, Jerusalem’s 40th annual International Arts and Crafts Fair at Hutzot Hayotzer also gathered artists from the four corners of the earth. Located just outside the picturesque Old City, the first two weeks of August transformed the historical Sultan’s Pool into a stage for craftsmen and designers from 33 countries to flaunt their wares.
For Israeli designers like Galya Harish, who founded her unique jewelry company The Blessing Flower this year, the fair provided a platform to expose local customers to their products.
Harish’s designs are not just made in Israel; they’re made of Israel. Each of her necklaces contains a small flower, called a “Blessing Flower” in English, that is grown in Israel’s Negev desert. Although the flower is detached from its roots, when given a drop of water, it blooms again for an hour. According to Harish, it will continue to bloom like this for thirty years.
“It’s a wonder of creation,” said Harish over the phone last week.
The designer explained that an American priest told her about the Blessing Flower – considered a symbol of resurrection in Christianity – and that she originally marketed her jewelry, under a different label, for Christian American customers. But Harish soon recognized the universality of the flower’s “powerful symbolism,” so she created The Blessing Flower in May to branch out towards a more diverse clientele, including local Jewish and Israeli customers.
Harish is using this month’s fair to spread the word about her designs to Israeli buyers who, she said, are often skeptical when they pass by her booth. So Harish loves to watch their impressed reactions when she explains how the product works.
‘If we believe and have faith, we can bloom again and again’
Ultimately, women buy the necklaces as “a symbol of our ability to overcome hardship,” Harish said. “If we believe and have faith, we can bloom again and again.”
The Blessing Flower stand at the fair, according to Harish, has been “packed most of the time with people who show a lot of enthusiasm” for the unusual necklaces.
Crowds of people descended upon the fair, browsing in the Israeli Pavilion, which boasts the designs of about 200 local artists, as well as the International Pavilion.
Some cooled off with fresh cones of gelato or chilled Chardonnay; others sampled the hot food from the dozens of stands in the International Food Fair. Customers waited in line to try everything from fresh Italian pasta at Pasta Fresca to authentic Korean kimchi from Seoul House to the fragrant Middle Eastern kebab-filled-pitas at Kebab shel Rachel.
Children were entertained by performances and workshops in the Children’s Compound, pottery wheels in Bezalel Academy’s “White House” Compound, and portrait-drawers and hair braiders throughout the tents. Adults spent time in the Beer Garden sipping on German Paulaner ales, sitting at picnic tables, and enjoying live music.
The highlight of the evening came at 9 p.m. each night, when crowds made their way into the Sultan’s Pool, where celebrated Israeli musicians including Sarit Hadad, Gidi Gov, Rita and Aviv Geffen performed to packed crowds of screaming fans.
It seems, based on one Tuesday night’s crowd, that not even a heatwave could stop families from enjoying one of Jerusalem’s most longstanding cultural event. On that particular night, as the fair’s doors opened at 6 p.m., the temperature was a very humid 31°C (almost 90 °F).
Many designers make the fair an annual event. The Hangover chairs – created in 2006 by Israeli designer Sagi Ahiel – are a crowd pleaser for the eighth year in a row.
The Hangover chair – a spin-off of the hammock – provides a comfort different from that of any other swing-type chair, claimed Ahiel. What distinguishes the Hangover is that its upper wooden bar runs from front to back, rather than side to side.
The chairs, which are sold throughout Israel, Europe, and now the US, were initially produced in Israel. Today they are produced in China due to the higher quality of production there, according to Ahiel.
But for Ahiel, who has lived and worked in Israel all his life, there is something special about selling at Hutzot Hayotzer.
“I always love to sell my creations everywhere,” he said, “but at this fair there is always an especially good feeling of celebration.”