Culture of Israel
Although Hebrew virtually ceased to be spoken around 200 CE, it continued to be used by Jews throughout the ages as the ‘sacred tongue’ in liturgy, philosophy and literature. In the late 19th century, it emerged as a modern cultural medium, becoming a vital factor in the national revival movement which culminated in political Zionism.
Today, Israeli press and literature is flourishing with the new generations of authors and readers, and Hebrew is a rich, vibrant, living tongue. In addition to the prolific body of Hebrew literature, a significant amount of writing, both prose and poetry appears in other languages, including Arabic, English, and French. Since the immigration of over one million Jews from the former Soviet Union, Israel has become the largest center of literary creativity in the Russian language outside Russia itself.
The Israeli music scene is diverse, dynamic and eclectic. It spans across all spectrums of musical genres and often fuses many musical influences ranging from classical, folk, Ethiopian, and Middle-Eastern, to rock, jazz, hip-hop, electronic, Arabic, and pop.
Classical music in Israel has been part of the vibrant music scene since the 1930s when hundreds of music teachers and students, composers, instrumentalists and singers, as well as thousands of music lovers, streamed into the country from Europe. The founding of The Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra (today the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1936 marked the beginning of Israel’s classical music scene. The Russian immigration in the 1990s boosted the classical music arena both with new talents and music lovers.
Many of the newcomers to Israeli music's pop scene have emerged through the TV program Kochav Nolad (A Star Is Born), Israel's version of American Idol.
Itzhak Perlman is a famous Israeli violinist and conductor born in 1945. He is regarded as one of the most internationally acclaimed violinists of the 20th century and has played at The White House and Kennedy Center, amongst other various international venues.
In the multicultural Israeli reality today, the Israeli theater is multilingual, presenting theater in Hebrew as well as in Arabic, Yiddish, English and Russian. Theater in Israel is composed of many different elements – contemporary and classical, indigenous and imported, experimental and traditional – with playwrights, actors, directors, and producers of many backgrounds merging the foreign with the local and thereby gradually creating a distinctive Israeli theater. The theater scene is very active, with many professional repertory companies and other theaters and dozens of regional and amateur companies performing throughout the country to large and devoted audiences.
Hebrew theater did not exist in ancient Hebrew culture, nor did it grow out of the Yiddish theater so popular in Eastern European Jewish communities up to World War II. Hebrew theater began with the founding in 1917 of a Hebrew theater, Habimah (The Stage) in Moscow, under the guidance of Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky and with the acting talent of Hanna Rovina (1892-1980), who later became the ‘First Lady of Hebrew Theater.’ In 1931, the company set up its permanent home in Tel Aviv.
Dance in Israel has developed in two directions: expansion of the Jewish folk dance genre; and the establishment of art dance, leading to stage productions created by professional choreographers and performed by trained dancers. Dance as an art form was introduced in the country in the 1920s by newly arrived teachers and devotees of dance from cultural centers across Europe. After the establishment of the state, a number of ensembles developed dance to a high professional level; each founded on the basis of a different orientation and style, influenced by Israel’s diverse and varied social, religious and cultural backgrounds. Today more than a dozen major professional dance companies, most of them based in Tel Aviv, perform a varied repertoire throughout the country and abroad.
The foundation of the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem in 1906 is considered to be the beginning of modern art in the Land of Israel. Israeli art has continued to evolve, reflecting Israeli history, society and identity. Israeli art today demonstrates rich and diverse approaches as well as a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography and video art.
From the beginning of the 20th century, visual arts in Israel have shown a creative orientation influenced by the encounter between East and West, as well as by the land itself and its development, the character of the cities, and stylistic trends emanating from art centers abroad. In painting, sculpture, photography, and other art forms, the country’s varied landscape is the protagonist: the hill terraces and ridges produce special dynamics of line and shape; the foothills of the Negev, the prevailing grayish-green vegetation and the clear luminous light result in distinctive color effects; and the sea and sand affect surfaces. On the whole, local landscapes, concerns, and politics lie at the center of Israeli art and ensure its uniqueness.
Israel has more museums per capita than any other country in the world, and Israeli museums have millions of annual visitors from across the globe.
The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in the State of Israel and is ranked among the leading art and archaeology museums in the world. Founded in 1965, the Museum houses a collection of nearly 500,000 objects, including the most extensive archive of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world are housed in the Shrine of the Book, the scrolls date from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE and include books of the Hebrew Bible as well as other non-canonical texts.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is Israel’s leading museum of modern and contemporary art, and home to one of the world’s largest collections of Israeli art. Each year, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art welcomes more than 500,000 visitors, offering them over twenty annual Israeli and international art exhibitions.
A first of its kind in the country, the Israeli Cartoon Museum is the home of cartoon artists, caricaturists and for the tens of thousands of comics lovers who now have a permanent platform for activity in this field.
Israel has developed a flourishing film industry, with movies competing in international film festivals and winning numerous awards. In Israel, a country of just eight million people, there are ten film schools and seven international film festivals.
In recent years the Israeli film industry has grown tremendously, with annually more than 2.5 million people worldwide watching Israeli films. Such growth is an achievement of the Israeli Film Fund, which works to engender a sustainable, creative and a vibrant Israeli film industry. In 2000, the Israeli government passed a New Cinema Law to ensure and secure more funding for Israeli cinema.
Filmmaking in Israel has undergone major developments since its inception in the 1950s. The first features produced and directed by Israelis such as "Hill 24 Does Not Answer," and "They Were Ten," tended, like Israeli literature of the period, to be cast in the heroic mold.
Some recent films remain deeply rooted in the Israeli experience, dealing with such subjects as Holocaust survivors and their children (Gila Almagor’s "The Summer of Aviya" and its sequel, "Under the Domim Tree") and the travails of new immigrants ("Sh’hur", directed by Hannah Azoulai and Shmuel Hasfari, "late Marriage" directed by Dover Koshashvili).
Others reflect a more predominant trend towards the present Israeli reality, whether dealing with the Israel-Arab and the Jews-Arabs confrontations (Eran Riklis’s "The Lemon Tree", Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s "Ajami"), the military aspects in the Israelis life (Joseph Cedar’s "Beaufort", Samuel Maoz’s "Lebanon", Eytan Fox's "Yossi and Jagger") or set in the context of universalist, somewhat alienated and hedonistic society (Eytan Fox’s "A Siren’s Song" and "The Bubble", Ayelet Menahemi and Nirit Yaron’s "Tel Aviv Stories"). The Israeli film industry continues to gain worldwide recognition through International awards and nominations.
The Spielberg Film Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the world's largest repository of film material on Jewish themes as well as on Jewish and Israeli life.