JNF WIRE: Celebrating the Holidays in the Western Galilee at an Inclusive Winter Festival
December 28, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
Celebrating the Holidays in the Western Galilee
at an Inclusive Winter Festival
By: Jessica Halfin
The Naama Women's Choir performs at JNF's Western
Galilee Tourist Information Center on Christmas Eve.
On a chilly winter morning in the seaside Israeli city of Akko, choral harmonies rose up into the air and bounced off a vaulted stone ceiling. The voices belonged to 30 women who make up the Naama Women’s Choir and rang in two holidays that happened to fall on the same date this year—Christmas and Chanukah. In the nearby background, the traditional Islamic call to prayer could be heard from the mosque just next door, blending perfectly with the choir’s Ave Maria—the truest showing of modern life in Israel’s Western Galilee.
The concert was held in the beautifully restored Jewish National Fund (JNF) Western Galilee Tourist Information Center, which promotes the region’s local tourism and businesses. Once an abandoned structure, it now plays host to the awe-inspiring music that is part of the annual Winter Festival. In its fifth year, the festival is hosted by Western Galilee Now (WGN), a consortium of small businesses, wineries, local tour operators, artisans, and more, to usher in and celebrate the winter holidays while introducing the general public to the varied cultures living side-by-side in the Western Galilee. Each year the festival takes tourists and visitors through a series of culinary and crafting workshops, concerts, tours, feasts, and storytelling.
On one such tour through Akko’s cobblestone streets, visitors were in for an intimate guided tour of its Old City. Passing through crisp new hotels that have been thoughtfully constructed around the ruins of city walls and water cisterns, the tourists encountered the bubbling energy of young children at play, while their families enjoyed the city for a weekend’s rest.
Emerging from an elevator, tourists were greeted by a breathtaking view of the ancient city from the rooftop of one of the Old City’s buildings. Amnon Gofer and Ayelet Bar-Meir, two of WGN’s tour guides, directed the visitors’ attentions to the Mediterranean Sea, land, and the marks of the many great civilizations who have tried to conquer Akko over the ages. So many civilizations have passed through this ancient port city that it can at times feel like modern-day Istanbul or a crusader-era European city.
“What makes Akko so special is not just the mix of people from all religions who live and coexist in this city,” Goffer said. “What’s exciting is that things are always growing and changing here. Both below and above the ground, there is always something new to discover. Wherever you look, there is something special to be found.”
Among the stops on this special holiday tour were an old Templar neighborhood, easily identified by its signature white and blue houses, and a Sufi Muslim shrine.
Under the jewel toned hue of yellow and blue stained glass at JNF’s Tourist Information Center, the choir serenaded the crowd with another melody, only this time it is not a Hebrew song or English carol, but a solemn Arabic hymn. At the end of the hymn, visitors and tourists whispered well wishes and chag sameach [happy holiday] to each other. The crowd remained to partake in the first Chanukah candle lighting, a moment that is eagerly awaited each year by those who celebrate. At the same time, Christians around the city, and indeed around the country, prepared for their Christmas Eve dinner.
Pnina Inbar, founder of the Naama Women’s Choir and the dedicated conductor, told the crowd, “Our concerts always hold a special feeling, but this one was very moving for all of us. Just having the opportunity to sing in these renewed historical and spiritual spaces in Akko’s Old City, among the wonders and hustle of the city, and with such a fantastic crowd, has made this year’s festival especially unique for all of us.”
Inbar’s moving words are exactly what the Western Galilee is all about: People from different faiths and walks of life coming together to take part in each other’s holiday ceremonies and customs. In Akko, coexistence isn’t ‘happening.’ It’s the norm.
To learn more about Jewish National Fund’s work, please visit JNF.org. To plan a visit to the Western Galilee with Western Galilee Now on your next visit to Israel, please visit westgalil.org.il (English).
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.
For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.