Jerusalem’s contemporary art festival looks at belief, in Mount Zion exhibit

Manofim, meant to have opened October 8, moves annual event to summer and brings ‘Believe’ to King David’s Tomb on historic hilltop

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

At the main Manofim contemporary art exhibit 'Believe' on Mount Zion, opening July 9, 2024 (Courtesy Daniel Hanoch)
At the main Manofim contemporary art exhibit 'Believe' on Mount Zion, opening July 9, 2024 (Courtesy Daniel Hanoch)

Manofim, Jerusalem’s annual contemporary art festival, was meant to open October 8, 2023, the day after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel’s south.

After a small, symbolic event was held in December, Manofim’s founders and organizers moved the entire event to the summer, July 9-13, said Manofim founder and art director Rinat Edelstein.

“We said, let’s do it in the summer this one time,” said Edelstein. “It will be very different, and that’s the idea.”

Also different will be its central location this year, situated on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, one of the city’s most historic hills, with relevance to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Each year, Manofim’s founders look for a site that represents a complicated connection to Jerusalem, their hometown, said Edelstein, speaking to The Times of Israel before the festival opened.

Manofim’s central exhibits have been held in the Rockefeller Museum on the seam between East and West Jerusalem, in the Bikur Holim hospital, and in other locations that describe the tenuous connections that fill the city.

At the main Manofim contemporary art exhibit ‘Believe’ on Mount Zion, opening July 9, 2024 (Courtesy Daniel Hanoch)

“Believe,” the main exhibit of this iteration of Manofim, curated by Edelstein, will be displayed in two buildings on Mount Zion — King David’s Tomb and the Dormition Church.

“It has a history that’s close and far, in just one kilometer of space, important to different communities who are often in opposition to one another, but they manage and no one is leaving this space, and it works,” said Edelstein.

David’s Tomb, situated on the first floor of the ninth century-era building, isn’t where King David is thought to be buried but has long had relevance to both Jews and Muslims. The upper floor of this early church, which has also been a mosque at times in history, is where Jesus’ Last Supper is thought to have taken place.

The entire hilltop of Mount Zion was designated as a no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan between 1948 and 1967, while the Old City was under Jordanian rule, but was the closest accessible site to the Western Wall at the time. Until the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel gained control of all of Jerusalem, including the Old City, Israelis would climb to the rooftop of David’s Tomb to pray, in order to be in closer proximity to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

Tourists visit at Mount Zion complex on October 20, 2022 (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Edelstein began thinking about David’s Tomb as a Manofim site about two years ago.

“I get there, and I start getting to know people and tell them about my vision and we go from there,” said Edelstein. “I don’t always succeed, but I tend to make new friends.”

Prior to October 7, as Edelstein worked on the exhibit, she felt the influence of all the different narratives — those of Palestinians, Israelis, and every kind of Jew who was spending time on the hilltop.

She viewed the site as the story of history, with each culture taking control at different times, and now, with all three religions existing there at one time.

“You ask yourself, could this maybe be an example?” said Edelstein.

At the main Manofim contemporary art exhibit ‘Believe’ on Mount Zion, opening July 9, 2024 (Courtesy Daniel Hanoch)

When the war broke out in Gaza after the Hamas attack of October 7 that killed more than 1,200 people and saw 251 hostages taken to Gaza, Edelstein and her long-time Manofim partner, Leehee Shulov, postponed their event and waited to see how the situation would affect their annual event.

“It did and it didn’t,” said Edelstein, “that’s the big question about this place. It’s this piece of land where a lot of kinds of people form different populations and belief systems live and work together.”

For the “Believe” exhibit, Edelstein brought as many voices as she could to the place, with contemporary works, including paintings, sculptures and installations, that relate to the questions she wanted to ask, placing them in the very rooms of the building known as David’s Tomb.

Rinat Edelstein (left) and Leehee Shulov, the founders and directors of Manofim, a Jerusalem art festival (Courtesy Manofim)

Edelstein said that the exhibit’s theme of belief is a word that has many interpretations, not limited to the religious and the spiritual.

“There’s no proof at all that King David is buried here, but people’s beliefs are so strong,” said Edelstein. “People believe what they believe, and I took that belief to myself and what I can do right now.”

Manofim will open on Tuesday, July 9 with a performance by the Great Gehenna Choir in Dormition Church on Mount Zion, with daily guided tours of the “Believe” exhibit at the site.

Other Manofim events include live performances each day, at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, at Hansen House and at Art Cube Artists’ Studios in Talpiot Industrial Zone, the official home of Manofim.

There are family events and activities for children throughout the festival, and a performance fashion show on Thursday, July 11, at Marie Gallery in downtown Jerusalem, with designs by Yishai Leissner in “Scary Clothes from Jerusalem,” a show about the clothing that characterizes the city and people of Jerusalem.

Yishai Leissner’s designs in ‘Scary Clothes from Jerusalem,’ for Manofim contemporary art festival, taking place on July 11, 2024 (Courtesy Yishai Leissner)

Tickets and more information about the various Manofim events are available online at the Manofim website.

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