© Michael Vainshtein

The name is weird, the format even more, the program so scattered we barely understand what it is all about, and it is a revolution for “people”. Because this festival is indeed for people, normal people, everyday people, left wing, right wing, young, older, culturally aware or not, for society as a whole. For who said that culture had to be a business for the elite only? No one did, and yet …

From the 10th to the 13th of April, the Sheikh Abreik festival, in Tiv’on (north of Israel), opened, for the third consecutive year, all public and private doors in the city so creation and exchange could settle in. As we discover what is behind these doors, sometimes difficult to find, the vision of Yonatan Levy, author and major Israeli stage director from Tiv’on, and many of his peers in his home town, becomes tangible. Only then, do we begin to truly understand what we are dealing with: pure revolutionary genius for society. Culture is just an excuse, a tool, albeit beautiful.

Looking at the program of the festival, it is hard to decide what to attend amongst the dense four days of performances of all kinds: acting in the park, singing in a tunnel, yoga workshops in the forest or documentary screening in someone’s house to name a few. Alongside these tempting performances, culinary offers are plenty; in restaurants of course but more importantly, in the intimacy of people’s homes, because this is Sheikh Abreik. “We don’t have to wait until someone gives us a space to express ourselves. If we want to do something, we start with our living room, our garden, and that’s good” says Yonatan Levy. From then on, make room for the unexpected. No code of the usual festivals applies here, the performances spots are not organized as to make it easy for the festival-goer. The car is a must, and shyness must take a back seat, as it is necessary to dare to enter the intimacy of families taking part in the experiment. Besides, the festival-goer also sleeps at the inhabitants’, free of charge. There, everything starts with a desire. A desire to do, a desire to see, and everyone is responsible for their creation, their experience.

Indeed, Levy and his group are in no way “responsible” for the festival, much to the local police’s chagrin. Each person behind a project is responsible for it, from the place it is at to the public it attracts. Yonatan only agglomerates all this in a program where “selection” does not exist. “Why should I select? The basis of this festival is to say that culture belongs to the free realm of human beings. We are all born, absolutely all, with a feeling of destiny, a vocation, a yearning and deep desire that will seek to manifest in one way or another. The algorithm of Sheikh Abreik, in short, is individual wishes and communal forces. Something happens then, when you overcome obstacles with the help of others, an emanation comes out of it, an energy is created and Society changes.”

These common forces rely on the sole engine of desire and not on a financial basis, allowing performances to be free. This is the moral contract of Sheikh Abreik: the encounter with others, followed by sincere collaboration (sometimes facilitated by Yonatan and other participants) and the responsibility for the project. “We do not have to wait for the government to give us money in order to create, just as the government does not have to tell us what we can or should do. Will and love are much stronger than laws and money. Initially, we started with a few houses, and then as we moved into the public space, our mayor saw this as a real opportunity. Despite the gratuity of performances, businesses in the city all benefit from these events.”

©Michael Vainshtein

If the festival is in its third edition, its grassroots started long ago. Tiv’on, the cradle of this extraordinary festival, has a strong legacy of self-reliance. The ethos of volunteering and education is also deeply rooted in this community. For nearly two decades, citizens fought to open their own Steiner school, the founding father of anthroposophy. This philosophy is indeed one of the founding forces of this citizen movement. Steiner’s vision revolves around individual responsibility and communal projects, these principles are applicable to many domains such as education, medicine, architecture, even banking. Based on the anthroposophy threefold social order, Levy developed his theory of the three bodies, which also happen to echo the founding principles of the French nation.

“The bodies, or rather the persons, is actually the process of creation. At first, there is an inspiration, it comes from beyond ourselves, like an inner pregnancy. Here we can find everything we were taught, our education, religion, culture. It is very personal, so we can say it is the first person, it’s the concept of liberty. Then this inspiration is translated into a vision, this is where the second person comes into play because we realize at this stage that we will need others to manifest this inspiration. Our whole economic balance can be found here. This is the concept of fraternity. Finally, the third person steps in as creation starts manifesting. It is there, into the world, independent from its creator, it no longer belongs to anyone, we are all equal before it, a unity under a mutual agreement. It is the physicalization of the equality concept.”

The consequences of this philosophy on the life of Tiv’on are numerous. “A new ethos has arrived with this culture. After socialism and capitalism, we now have a hybrid, anarcho-liberal movement where we want to maintain a nucleus of individual wishes with communal efforts. It is important to maintain this balance, too much of each will never be good. This way of life gave birth to several citizen initiatives in Tiv’on, such as a non-profit supermarket amongst others, but since the festival, many others are on the way such as architectural suggestions developed during another festival in the city, which will soon be submitted to the municipality”.

Since the creation of the festival, the author admits to having profoundly changed his relation to creation and to the world. “I am much more open to others and my artistic horizons have broadened to understand Society as a work of art. It is like discovering a new continent, so exciting!” Sheikh Abreik aims to travel to other cities in Israel and in the world. It already took place in the town of Pardes Hanna and others shall follow soon. In an environment where the desire to create is often impeached for financial or technical reasons, this festival says “do not wait, start where you are!”. The possibilities it creates are as wide as the use of space in Sheikh Abreik festival: everywhere, at every level.

This is how the 750 performances, amongst which gems “Duos” by Tamar Benyamini in a former water tower or “Mother Jerusalem” by Tamar Linder and Neta Spiegel in a tunnel, as sublime or mediocre as can be, are not of utmost importance in Sheikh Abreik. The real star there is a society in action and the magnetic field that emanates from it which shall vibrate long lastingly in all three bodies at once.