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Desert decorated for Sufi Festival, Shittim, 2019

Best Sufi Celebration is in… Israel

Best Sufi Festival in the Middle East

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Also you can fast-forward straight to the musical sections from the Table of Contents above.

Sufi Festival in Israel

From the official page of the 8th Sufi Festival:

The Sufi Festival was created in order to acknowledge and share the Sufi culture, art and wisdom which have passed down from generation to generation. The Sufi festival is a place for introspection, friendship and self expression beyond time. A zone in which music, dance and silence become a language.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
— Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi —

Here is the link to the Hebrew expanded version of the program.

Sufi Festival Shittim - The Desert

Desert Dressed Sufi-Style

Shittim Ashram dressed itself differently for the Sufi Festival:

Dancing dervish and cloth for night shadow dancing. Sufi Festival, Shittim, 2019Dancing dervish doll and cloth screen for shadow dancing.

Desert decoration for Sufi festival, Shittim 2019Desert decoration for Sufi Festival, Shittim, Arava

Threads of Longing, Ashram Bamidbar. Sufi Festival, Shittim, 2019Threads of Longing” sculpture by Hadas Tuval.

A thread’s journey

Stretches around an axis

Between Earth and Sky

Inviting to wrap in a whirl,

Gather, expand, elevate. 

 Creation and poem by Hadas Tuval. (Translation, O.A.)

The “Old Timers” of the Ashram were still there to greet us:

By Zorba the Buddha. Shittim Arava, Israel, 2019,Sitting at the feet of Zorba the Boddha, Shittim Ashram. Sufi Festival.

Zorba the Buddha, Osho’s idea of combining the Mediterranean jolly persona of Zorba the Greek with the meditative message symbolized by the Buddha

Tree Goddess totem welcomes all desert wanderers.  Ashram Bamidbar, Shittim

Celebrators dance against the huge white screen at night, creating a shadow spectacle. 

Getting to the Ashram

It takes three to four hours from the Center or Jerusalem, depending on driver. I always stop for breakfast at the Ein Bokek Hotel area, and otherwise for strethces, so I linger a bit. But it is advisable to get there early to find a good spot for the tent.

So here you are – in the Desert! Signs around you say: 

Wherever you look, you see yourself

Gathering to Sufi Festival, Shittim, Arava, Israel, 2019Families coming to Sufi Festival, Shittim. 

Families and friends gather for the Sufi Festival at so-called “Welcome Center”

Once you successfully erected your tent and registered, the first festival experience was the wonderful music this small ensemble, playing on the “Grass Stage”, produced for the newcomers:

As the newcomers arrived at the Festival, this small ensemble welocomed them with traditional music.

More than a 1000 people attended the festival.

Sufi Festival Shittim - The Music

The performance part of the Sufi Festival was, without doubt, the highlight. The bands, musicians, singers were simply fabulous. 

Hawa and Mohamed Alnuma

I regret not taking videos of the beautiful Hawa group with the Iraqi-born Mohamed Alnuma, husband of the Israeli dancer Daniell Alnuma (Alter). They produce music and dance performances in Goa, India and in Europe.

You can find a video of them performing in Goa here.

Sufi Festival Music - Neta Elkayam

Neta Elkayam singing Moroccan music with a mostly-female band in the Sufi Festival, Shittim.  

To quote from her Facebook profile, since her childhood, Neta Elkayam has been surrounded by Moroccan-Jewish music. 
The goal of Neta and her mostly-female band is to combine their love of traditional ethnic music with loyalty to a young, contemporary identity. They used old records they found in musical archives, alongside new original pieces composed by members of the band. Some of the songs are written in Darija, a Moroccan dialect. Their music is also “an attempt to bring together Maghreb communities, Jews and Muslims, and open up the hearts of listeners whoever they may be”.

No doubt they succeeded with the festival’s crowd that got totally ecstatic…

Zikr - Israeli Ecstasy with Gil Ron Shama

The main “Zikr” (remembrance, in Hebrew: Zikkaron) ceremony was conducted by the Gil Ron Shama Project on the second evening of the Sufi Festival. The Zikr is an essential Sufi ritual meant to invoke the memory of God in our lives. 

To be in unity with Allah is to be in a constant state of remembrance of the source of all creation.

(See my note below on the names of God, etc.)

The ensemble played Arabic and contemporary Hebrew, original and traditional.

It is a musical and cultural celebration of a mixture of the country’s residents who choose music as a gate for a common ground of peace and harmony. The performance includes classical and folk pieces, quiet ballads and happy songs – from the desert landscape to the Galille mountains, from Jaffa to the beaches of the Sinai.” 

The ensemble assembled Arab and Jewish musicians (religious and non-religious) from around the county to inspire and elevate our souls. In particular inspiring was the song “Give us Only Love, We Don’t Want War.”

Gils Ron Shama’s eclectic ensemble excites hundreds of Israelis. His message of “Give us Love not War” receives the audience’ full support and applause.

Sufi Festival Shittim - The Workshops

For the Sufi Festival, the Ashram set up the grounds to accomodate two performance stages and five workshop compounds, two of which out in the desert. In all, there were 45 workshops in 3 days. Many of the workshops coincided, so I onlyh managed to take 6…

On the positive side, that means I’ll have to come again for the next festival!!!

Sufi Festival - Maqamat

The first workshop I stumbled into took place in the Maqamat compound.

Moran Kanar from Maqamat, the Academy for Eastern Music in Zfat, gave an extraordinary class teaching the uninitiated (like myself) the esoteric rhythms of Makam using the do-re-mi as anchors. I actually got it! Hurrah!

I took another workshop in the Maqamat compound the next day. This time it was a drumming master, Yishai Afterman, another teacher from the Academy of Eastern Music in Zfat (his Facebook profile can be found here). He taught us the concepts behind rhythms, using the wonderful round “frame drum”.

All of a sudden, the strange beats started to make some sense. The assumption that one needs to be born in a certain culture in order to “imbibe these sounds with the milk” dissipated fast. That was empowering, and actually simple. Yishai even taught us how to create such rhythms ourselves…

Yishai Afterman teaching Middle Eastern rhythms at teh Sufi Festival, Shittim, 2019

Yishi Afterman teaching an oriental rhythms and drumming workshop, Sufi Festival

Yishai Afterman teaches the basics of drumming on the open frame drum. Sufi Festival, Shittim

Sufi Festival - Dance Workshops

Orit Succary teaches a North African scarves dance at her ethnic dance workshop, Sufi Festival, Shittim. 

Orit Succcary‘s ethnic dance workshop also took place in the Maqamat compound (here is her Facebook profile). She casts a very wide net, “throwing around” bits and pieces of dances from along the legendary Silk Road and all the way to Morrocco.

We all treaded along, trying on her scarves and cymbals, endevoring to emulate her easy joviality.

Later in the festival, she also whirled on the stage with two other women in white, creating a total fantasy…

Sufi Festival - Caucasian Yoga

Lisa Talesnick teaches fire breathing at a Caucasian Yoga workshop. Sufi Festival, Shittim.

I was extremely lucky to take the Caucasian Yoga workshop with Lisa Talesnick

This form of yoga from Abkhasia in the Caucasus Mountains is the physical aspect of a deep and profound system of spiritual esoteric wisdom. 

According to her teacher, Murat Yagan, in his book “Ahmsta Kebzeh: The Science of Universal Awe” (2003, Kebzeh Foundation Publications): 

One thing should be very carefully clarified… that the Caucasus Mountains are not the source of the teaching. The source is the mind of the attained Human, but the Caucasus happened to be the place where it was preserved unadultereated until recently, because of the favourable protective characteristics of its mountains and the faithfulness and stamina of its inhabitants. The latest branching out from the original place happened to be its form applied to the infrastructure of Islam under the name of Sufism in the 10th century (Authors’s preface, page xx).

The workshop indeed worked on our “stamina”, though for sure we’ll never measure up to these amazing mountain people. I can certainly benefit from a bit of energizing, for a starter…

Sufi Festival - Wines of Shiraz

There were several theoretical workshops. I was more in the mood to move and socialize, so I just took one: Dr. Eldad Pardo‘s workshop on “Mystical Drunkeness and Shiraz Wines”. Dr. Pardo is an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, specializing in Iran.

I discovered that Sufism was an Iranian reaction to Islam, Turks, Mongols and other invaders; that Muslims would go to drink wine in Jewish houses beacause our religion does not forbid it; that Druze were the first to be monogamous and annihilate slavery. I learned that the world is paradoxical and the Sufis touch on that paradox. And also that many Sufis today are secular and peace seekers. 

More than anything, I learned that love and longing are the name of the game in Sufism. 

Dr. Eldad Pardo talking about mystical drunkeness and Shiraz wines. Sufi festival

Dr. Eldad Pardo speaking about holy drunkeness and Shiraz wines. Sufi Festival, Shittim

Sufi Festival Shittim - Free Time

Unsturctured Ashram Time

There’s always a place and time in the Ashram for stretching, hanging out, making one’s own music, free dancing, roaming. 

      Acro yoga. Shittim Sufi Festival   Stretching . Sufi festival Shittim

Young and old on the stretch… Left: young – acro yoga. Right : an older couple practicing yoga

Young guy stretching free-style in between workshops. Sufi Festival, Shittim.

In this particular festival, half the visitors brought their own instruments, and kept playing beyond hours, or in small gatherings around the grounds.

An all-girl group singing an impro for Mother Earth, Sufi Festival, Shittim.

A couple sitting by the Tree Goddess totem, singing “Sunny”.

Peacock. Shittim 2019

Some exotic creatures also roam the grounds…

Free Dancing a-la-Ashram

While many people take the workshops, others just dance to the music played at the two music centers – the Grass Stage and the Buddha Hall. 

Dancing free-style at Buddha Hall. Sufi Festival, Shittim.

Sufi Festival - Closing Whirling Ceremony

Closing Whirling Ceremony - Harel Shachal and the Sufi Orchestra

On Saturday, we had the closing Whirling Ceremony with Harel Shachar and the Sufi Orchestra. For about two hours we, Israelis, tried our best at Sufi whirling. Not taking the whirling workshops in the previous days, but having some previous experience from my Sufi workshops in the U.S., I whirled slow, but sure…Perhaps next time, I’ll get more confidence and speed things up a bit… . It was still very uplifting!

Some professional dancers/whirlers mingled with the crowd.

Sufi Festival Shittim - Reflections

On the Way Home

On the way home I was blessed to give a ride to Ananada Das and his girlfriend, Julie. He gave a workshop on the last day called “There is nothing to understand”, in the Osho spirit. I missed it as I was busy packing, but was lucky to have the opportunity the very next day to take the same workshop in Jerusalem, just before they left for Spain…

We stopped by the Dead Sea, swam against the sunset. Julie had her first experience of free floating…

Ananda Das and Julie by Dead Sea , Ein Bokek

Ananda Das breaking a salt crystal. Dead Sea

Ananda Das and Julie by the Dead Sea on way back from Sufi Festival, Ein Bokek Beach

The Source - a Personal Note

I am very eclectic by nature. The spirit of the Sufi Festival merged seamlessly into my already varied spiritual palate. It was very nice to see the fusions created by performers of Jewish and Arabic elements. 


For clarification I’ll repeat what I said in my Personal Spiritual Salad post about celebrating what unites us:

Participating in a Sufi festival does not make me a Muslim; having a tree and giving gifts on Christmas did not turn me into a Christian; sharing a Shabbat table with observant Jews does not miraculously transform me into a practicing Jew, or into a “believer”. But I can flow easily in all these situations when the emphasis is on the common ground, the Unity.

I believe something of the sort is true for most participants in this auspicious Sufi Festival.

Quoting again from Murat Yagan about the ancient wisdom of Ahmsta Kebzeh:

No, it is not a religion and does not interfere with any existing religion. It is applied science; it is the art of living as a human being fully exercising human faculties wholistically. But religions may be made out of it.” (Ahmsta Kebzeh: The Science of Universal Awe. p. xxvii)

And on yet another level…

On another level still, it does not really matter whether they call it Allah or God, while I prefer The Great Spirit or The Universe. When God is perceived as being both inside and outside us, or in other words, when we perceive of ourselves as a part of this Consciousness, we are in the territory of the common core of the mystical traditions.

The mystical goal is to merge with the Infinite inside and outside. Breath is the obvious primary connection between the two. What is commonly called “religions” is a matter of culture and personal preference (see my discussion on paths and source  in the  post “My personal spiritual salad“).

The Location…

This Sufi Festival is another demonstration that there is a reality created on this Land between the Red, the Dead and the Med Seas and between Africa, Asia and Europe – a living reality that transcends the politics and brings people together through music, dance and everyday contacts to our common Spiritual Core.

Om. Shalom. Salam.


Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be….

The moment you grasp it, there is a shift in consciousness from mind to Being, from time to Presence. Suddenly everything feels alive, radiates energy, emanates Being…

Sufis have a saying: “The Sufi is the son of time present”.

Rumi declares: “Past and future veil God from our sight, burn up both of them with fire.”

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now.


And that was the Power of the Shittim Sufi Festival: the intense soulful music, the dancing, the atmsophere and experiences, all brought one, as in magic, right to the present moment, to Being…  


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