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Spotlight shines on Israeli culture in Toronto

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A-wa perform at the Mod Club on March 20
A-wa perform at the Mod Club on March 20

The Spotlight on Israeli Culture, a two-month showcase of Israeli music, theatre, film, dance and visual arts, is gearing up for its third year.

“We’re just trying to once again focus and highlight and showcase some of the diverse and vibrant original culture that is coming out of Israel. Israel, as you may be aware, produces beyond proportional [numbers] of artists compared to other countries in the world, so maybe it is just a lifestyle, in that they put a lot into art and culture,” said Janet Klugsberg, executive director of the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation (CICF), the group that organizes the event.

Supported by the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto, the Spotlight is presented by a number of cultural organizations in Toronto – the Ashkenaz Festival, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, the Toronto Jewish Film Society, the Toronto Public Library and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto – to showcase Israeli art throughout the city from Feb. 21 to April 10.

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Klugsberg said it’s meaningful to her to be able to present Israeli artists whose careers have flourished, in small part as a result of financial support they received from CICF’s Sharett Scholarship program in Israel, which provides tuition assistance to young, talented artists.

“Young artists, whether they are musicians, dancers, in film, in theatre, in art, compete for these prestigious scholarships. People like [conductors and violinists] Itzhak Perlman or Pinchas Zukerman received these when they were young,” she said.

Some of the participants in this year’s Spotlight, including musicians Roni Eytan, a harmonica player studying on a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music, and Avishai Cohen, a world-class trumpeter, are former Sharett Scholarship recipients. Both will be playing at The Rex on April 10.

“CICF is pleased to have supported some of these artists when they were young, and now we’re featuring them in the Spotlight. To be part of their growth and to see how far they’ve come is really something amazing for me,” Klugsberg said.

Some of the other performance highlights include A-WA, Israel’s hottest new world music act consisting of three sisters – Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim – who combine their Yemeni musical roots with contemporary funk, electronica and hip-hop influences.

“They have the first Arabic song to hit the top of the charts in Israel, and they were also featured by Al-Jazeera, even though they are a Jewish-Israeli group,” Klugsberg said.

A-WA will perform at the Mod Club on March 20.

Mikvah, an Israeli play that explores the secret world of the ritual bath as it relates to religious observance and “evolving feminist consciousness” and was named the 2004 Production of the Year at the Israeli Theatre Academy Award, will run at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on March 6.

The film The Kind Words (in Hebrew and French, with English subtitles), a story about three siblings who are confronted with a revelation about the identity of their “real” father, will be screened at the Empress Walk theatre on Feb. 28.

Idan Sharabi, a choreographer and dancer who will be at The Citadel on March 1, will be part of a triple bill performance that will include her award-winning dance duet Ours, which won best choreography in the Copenhagen International Choreography Competition and the Hanover Choreography Competition.

Klugsberg said Idan Sharabi, a Sharett scholarship recipient, has openly praised CICF and credited the support he received from the scholarship as helping to shape his career.

“Idan Sharabi is really one of the up-and-coming stars in the world of dance, so it is really nice to know that the support we gave these people when they were younger has helped in their growth, and now to see them be world class, whether they are musicians or dancers, is really something special for CICF and our donors to see the impact our support can have,” she said.

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“Culture is really something that transcends borders and we really want to make the Spotlight on Israeli culture something that people recognize this time of year and make it a fixture in Toronto’s cultural scene… Hopefully in 2017, with Canada’s 150th anniversary, and then in 2018 [with] Israel’s 70th anniversary, we’re hoping to increase the exposure and increase the connection between the countries and continue to make this a real splash.”


For more information about the festival or a listing of upcoming events, click here.