As the city sludges through one of the rainiest winters in years, Jerusalemites can look forward to escaping the rain with... ice. From March 3rd through April 4th, Jerusalem's Old Train Station compound is set to unveil a frosty version of the Holy City dubbed "Ice City," under the framework of the first-ever Jerusalem International Ice Festival. The festival grounds include an ice bar, an acrobatics show, ice models of Jerusalem landmarks - from the Tower of David to the famed Mifletzet slide - and exhibits based on popular fairy tales and Biblical stories.
The festival is worthy of its "International" moniker both in terms of its concept (35 artisans from China are currently hard at work, sculpting away) and in terms of visitors (with hundreds of thousands of visitors from Israel and abroad expected to check in over the course of the event).
Ice City comes on the heels of the blockbuster success that was last year's Safra Square skating rink. For more ice-themed fun, the Malcha Mall iced up in January, with a family-friendly rink right outside the Mashbir Department Store. And Latrun's Mini Israel theme park has been wooing little ones over the course of four weekends with its "White February" series, complete with snow trucked in from the Golan Heights, coupled with a full schedule of Eskimo-themed activities.
With production duties overseen by the city government-affiliated Ariel Company, the Jerusalem International Ice Festival is, in essence, an exported and locally customized version of northern China's annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which has drawn scores of visitors to the wintry town each January since the mid-1960s. With bigger icy fun only available in Japan, Canada and Norway, the Harbin festival is among the largest of its types in the world, and exported versions of it have already begun to crop up as temporary tourist attractions elsewhere.
Tzion Turgeman, the Ariel Company's director, believes that the Jerusalem festival is primarily a celebration of the Harbin traditions. "We found these artisans in China, in Harbin, which has been making its own Ice Festival for the past 20-plus years," he tells GoJerusalem.com. "We heard that they are the best."
Being the best takes work, bringing the Chinese team to Israel has demanded major logistical efforts. "It's been very hard to work with them," Turgeman confesses. "Our office was in touch with them non-stop for two months prior to the event. Over 1,500 emails were sent back and forth and each email had to be translated into English and then into Chinese and vice versa." Apparently, even the phone calls had to be made through a translator, as the Chinese artisans do not speak functional English - let alone Hebrew.
According to Turgeman, this is the first time something of its kind is being attempted anywhere in the Middle East. With so much riding on it, the city is promoting the festival far and wide. As Turgeman puts it, "We started a very big advertising campaign - on radio and on television - in Israel. Outside of Israel, we turned to our contemporaries, to tourist departments in other countries, to promote the Festival."
Heilongjiang Provincial Ice and Snow Art Development Co. Ltd. General Manager, meanwhile, is steadfast in his belief that his team's craftsmen are unparalleled in skill and as an audience draw. "We have accumulated more than 30 years of experience in carving thousands of ice statues visited by literally millions of people in over 40 countries and regions around the world," he recently boasted to Travel Weekly Asia. "Our Harbin artisans are among the finest ice carvers anywhere, and this has been acknowledged by our winning more than 1,000 prestigious prizes and by the Department of Cultural Industry of the Ministry of Culture selecting Heilongjiang Ice Sculpture as one of China’s Outstanding Cultural Exports."
Photo of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival courtesy of 李吉秋 from Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license. Additional photos courtesy of the Municipality of Jerusalem.