If I forget thee

Group offers new ways to explore Jerusalem despite pandemic

Mekudeshet cultural organization offers care packages, communal gatherings and a new home for ‘new format in same field’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

In previous years, Jerusalem’s Mekudeshet Festival has taken audiences on seven-hour walks, hosted concerts at dawn and explored every nook and cranny of the capitol in an effort to discover and break down boundaries between the Arab, ultra-Orthodox, Jewish and secular residents of the city.

Now, with the ongoing pandemic and the inability to host larger gatherings during the cultural organization’s usual fall season festival, Mekudeshet is looking for new ways to bring the challenges and gifts of Jerusalem to those who have missed visiting the city over the last year.

The first attempt is a care package titled “Dissolving Boundaries: A Journey with the People of Jerusalem.” The audio and visual experience will take participants on an adventure, through a podcast and a package of “sense-activating” accessories delivered to their door.

Participants become protagonists on a journey that begins at home, weaving through stories and voices in Jerusalem.

The package can be ordered through the Dissolving Boundaries website for $60.

It’s one of the ways that the cultural organization is making its way through the pandemic, which canceled last year’s festival and that of 2021.

“Even if we could bring 2,000 people together, I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing,” said Mekudeshet director Naomi Bloch Fortis. “Needs have changed and there’s pain and trauma; we have to figure out a new direction given the new sensitivities. We’re in the same field, it’s just a different format.”

For those living in or close to Jerusalem, there is a way to visit Mekudeshet, as the organization has moved into a new home — Feel Beit, as in feel at home — during the pandemic.

The space overlooks the Old City, Abu Tor and the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, and is situated at one end of the Haas-Sherover Promenade that reaches all the way to the neighborhoods of Armon Hanatziv and Jabel Mukaber.

Tucked behind the YES Planet movie theater, Feel Beit includes a small performance space and bar, a station for recording Mekudeshet On Air, the organization’s radio shows and podcasts in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Haredit (the combination of Yiddish and Hebrew often spoken by the Israeli ultra-Orthodox), and offices.

The 20-person staff reflects Mekudeshet’s efforts to represent all of Jerusalem, with Palestinian, ultra-Orthodox and secular Jewish staff, all of whom took a 30% pay cut during the last year in order to keep going throughout the pandemic.

הקיץ תיכף נגמר והתנועה בצומת ❤️ סואנת וצבעונית מאי פעם. בואו לבלות אחה"צ עם חוויות אמנותיות ומפתיעות בטיילת גבריאל…

Posted by ‎מקודשת Mekudeshet مقدسة‎ on Monday, August 17, 2020

When Mekudeshet held last summer’s Tzomet Lev gatherings on the nearby Sherover Promenade every Wednesday evening, to bring the city’s different communities together through music, yoga, and creative activities, the thinne- down staff learned to do everything themselves, from lighting and “schlepping pillows” to photography and production, said Fortis.

That weekly event will be held again this spring, starting in April.

“We learned a lot about the promenade and who’s there,” said Fortis. “We understand that our house is this whole kilometer [of the promenade] and we want to be part of what happens here.”

Mekudeshet is now inviting visitors to view the permanent light installation created by artist Guy Zagorsky at Feel Beit.

The Hebrew and Arabic words for light are written in sign language on a billboard sign of giant neon hands. For visitors standing in front of the low-slung Feel Beit building, the Hebrew and Arabic words for darkness are visible inside while on either side of the entrance are endless rolling messages in Hebrew and Arabic, describing emotions, thoughts and ideas.

The lights are on every day, until 11 p.m.

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