Culture, Identity, Israel

Identity and Jerusalem: My final stop before the Nesher

I walked into HaTav HaShmini, a record store on Rechov Shammai, for my last purchases in Jerusalem before catching my Nesher to the airport to return to Boston. I had a short list of recommendations from LastTrumpet of Jewy hippie music to pick up, and I wanted to listen to whatever was good. (Unlike in the States, in Israel they still let you listen to the music before you buy it.)
I flipped through the Jewish music section, picked out a couple of disks, listened to some, put some back. I found a disc called something like music of the kabbalah, which turned out to be an overly Orientalized cantorial selection of kabbalistic poetry, most of it liturgical. I had bought a disc by Ein Od Milvado during a clothing excursion to the Bat Ayin store (I know, I know, but they have the best selection of clothing for my style and body type), so I was looking through some other of his discs. I saw a disc put out by the Bat Ayin community and was really curious what would be on such a thing. (The first song was a strange ballad to Bat Ayin…) There were some other religious CDs too. The guy at the counter, a large guy with curly Jew hair and a scraggly beard and mustache, politely switched discs for me; I must have listened to like 5 or 6. Finally, I selected the three I wanted and handed them over to purchase.
The guy at the counter looked at what I’d chosen and said, “You know what you’d really like? There’s this album Orange Days? that’s really good; it has all the best Chassidic singers. You should listen to it.” He gestured to a dreadlocked dude to get the CD.
Dreadlocked dude got me the disc and set it down in front of me while counter guy rang someone else up.
“Yamim Ktumim: Shirim shel Tikvah v’Emunah” was the title. (“Orange Days: Songs of Hope and Faith.”) The album cover was black and orange, with a huge photograph of young religious people marching in a line with instruments somewhere in Gush Katif. Against the disengagement. It was an album memorializing the fight against the disengagement.
WHAT? What kind of demographic had I unintentionally projected by my music choices and clothing? Where did I go wrong and appear to be a right wing fanatic? I mean I guess the Bat Ayin album might have falsely incriminated me, but really, why are religious hippies in Israel predominantly right-wingers? What IS that? Why can’t I have hippie religious experience without right wing politics? What do I even mean by hippie anymore.
OR… In other words, I realized my naivite. How could I blame counter guy for his assumption? Up til a certain point, I am apparently okay patronizing stores that support settlements, hanging out at Nachlaot gatherings and minyanim with people who wish that all Arabs would be shot, considering learning at a place closely tied with Yeshivat Bat Ayin, buying music by right-wingers because it’s good, but somehow buying an album called “Yamim Ktumim” was just one step over the line. Visiting Bat Ayin or another settlement is one step over the line.
(It’s an intriguing step over the line though, like buying designer clothes or renting an SUV on a vacation or not recycling. There’s something naughty and thrilling in stepping to the other side for a little while.)
The counter guy took the CD and started unwrapping it to put it in the CD player for me to listen to it.
“Ah, no. No thanks, I don’t want to listen to it,” I said.
“You sure?” I nodded my head. He shrugged, clearly bewildered. “Okay,” and rang me up.

19 thoughts on “Identity and Jerusalem: My final stop before the Nesher

  1. hysterical! that’s a very awesome and sad story. that has always been one of my biggest frustrations living in jerusalem/nachlaot/bat ayin. although the yeshiva in bat ayin itself has actually been at times fairly left-leaning (relatively speaking).
    its important to note that the german colony does have a fair amount of religious “hippies” who are very active in israeli left wing politics.
    on second thought, yehudit beracha, it might’ve just been your orange hair 🙂

  2. Sounds like you SHOULD go visit Bat Ayin or another settlement so you can get out of your lefty refusnik bubble and can start being constructive about finding a solution to the strife in the Holy Land. You might be on a field trip out here, but those of us working for peace and who live in Israel know that any just, sustainable solution to this generations-long war requires being able to hear and respect all sides – settlers, Hamas, seculars, religious, Christians etc.

  3. Out here at Yeshivat Bat Ayin, we’re not offended by the fact that you labeled us and dismissed us before you even came out to meet us.

  4. BTW: Acharit Hayamim and The Bat Ayin Band (not necc. the Bat Ayin Sampler) get my vote for best Jewish music in the space you’re looking in.

  5. yeh, my thoughts exactly. the settler hippie phenomenomenom is nuts.
    and another thing, notice how in the shtachim religious men and women have the same stlye head coverings (cos those hats that dati women wear on short hair are just like settler kippot. do you know what i’m saying man?)

  6. I went to a Shabbat dinner the last time I was in Israel, and it was all hippies who kept talking about healing meditations, and how great hemp was, and where to buy the best quinoa, and then the matsav came up and they were suddenly all, “Arabs are evil, why can’t we just kill them all?” It was kind of terrifying the way they were all super lefty except in their Israeli politics. Israel is really the only place I’ve ever heard of with right wing hippies.

  7. yeah it is pretty scary. I am trying to deal with this struggle since I am going to be in israel for a year. Seriously, it is really weird. Why can’t religious hippies be like other hippies? What happened to idealism? oy…

  8. What happened to idealism?
    The problem is too much idealism — the belief that if we click our heels together and say “There’s no place like home, mamash gevalt”, then the Palestinians will disappear and there will be a Jewish-majority state on the entire biblical land of Israel.
    Here is a good article on the topic by Jay Michaelson.

  9. BZ,
    Thanks for your comment, that is a really good point. Maybe the problem is not being able to handle the paradoxes and the struggles of that land, so instead they just put it aside and say “Bazrat Hashem, one day there will be no struggle” aka, no palestinians. Really interesting…

  10. Does anyone here know the history of Bat Ayin and Gush Etzion and what happened there in 1948? Has anyone here actually talked with the survivors or their children?

  11. Out here at Yeshivat Bat Ayin, we’re not offended by the fact that you labeled us and dismissed us before you even came out to meet us.
    —’laizer · June 9th, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    For brevity’s sake, I didn’t put in more about my relationship with all these places. ‘laizer brings up a good point, so I should mention that I have a lot of wonderful friends who are at or have learned at Bat Ayin, and that they come from a wide variety of political and religious backgrounds, and that I know that the yeshiva is not the same as the settlement as a whole. Additionally, one of the questions I was trying to address here is that I both want to be part of communities like Yeshivat Bat Ayin (well, except for the whole being a woman thing, it might be kind of difficult to get any learning done there) for all of the things I find wonderful and engaging about them, and also am wary of being part of them for all that I find politically/emotionally questionable about them. My story was more on an aesthetic level in theme, talking about appearances and taste, but it’s also deeper than that for me. Maybe that’s the topic of another post.
    BTW: Acharit Hayamim and The Bat Ayin Band (not necc. the Bat Ayin Sampler) get my vote for best Jewish music in the space you’re looking in.
    —’laizer · June 9th, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    I love Acharit HaYamim, I totally agree — they played a wedding I was at last year and I was just jamming with some of them last week. Tav HaShmini didn’t have their album, you should tell them to try to get them to carry it, cuz I was looking for it. I haven’t heard the Bat Ayin Band.

  12. GDrum,
    Sounds like you SHOULD go visit Bat Ayin or another settlement…
    When I said that apparently visiting Bat Ayin or another settlement was stepping over the line, so to speak, my exact point was that the line I had drawn for myself was somewhat arbitrary and is one that I am questioning in the bigger picture. Where do we draw the line about participation or benefit from things we don’t agree with? Is visiting friends on a settlement tantamount to agreeing with the settlement, or is that silly? Can I really drive to school, even though it saves 30 minutes on taking the subway, after seeing An Inconvenient Truth? Is buying clothes from the GAP because they fit my Jewish hips okay, or should I boycott them because of their previous ties to sweatshops? (Or was it killing forests? It’s so hard to keep track of what I’m allowed to buy without compromising my political integrity…)
    …any just, sustainable solution to this generations-long war requires being able to hear and respect all sides – settlers, Hamas, seculars, religious, Christians etc.
    I agree with you, it’s so important to any conflict, and especially this one, to “be able to hear and respect all sides.” That’s a huge part of my approach to politics.
    …so you can get out of your lefty refusnik bubble…
    I’m pretty sure that in my post I conveyed my feeling ambivalent about the many communities I find myself part of in Israel, and in order to feel torn about those communities, I would necessarily need to be part of them , but I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. [Arie or zt, you can chime in and assure the good folks I do not live in a lefty refusnik bubble… but try not to incriminate me for my relative centrism. :)]
    You might be on a field trip out here, but those of us working for peace and who live in Israel know…
    The problem with a blog set-up like this is that a post taken atomistically misses the background of the person writing it. I guess there was no way to prevent you from assuming all sorts of things about my countries of residence, my relationships with people of different backgrounds, or even my own relationship to Israel and Zionism. Unless you simply took the step to ask, instead of assuming you understood where I was coming from and then chastising me for it. I am resisting the temptation to list all the ways you’re assumptions about me were wrong, but for now I’ll just say that Israel was my home last year and will be again for God-willing a number of years in the future, and (sorry to be harsh but) you might want to take your own advice and hear from all sides, including those whose relationship with Israel does not include a teudat zahut.

  13. I can attest to YB’s living outside of a leftist refusenik bubble, since she’s inclined to have me do so. But more importantly, what’s wrong with being a refusenik? We all have values about which we have strong feelings. Some Jews refuse to step foot in a non-Kosher restaurant. They feel strongly about abiding by halacha (for example). If someone feels strongly that visiting the settlements is an endorsement for their existence (and does not want to give that endorsement), what’s wrong with refusing to visit? Is it really a bubble, or just a different value system?

  14. I think the obvious problem is that you’re listening to hippie music. Period. I know, it’s the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Peppers, so iconoclasm is in – but really? Frum hippie music? Ach.

  15. YB, Well, yes, I suppose I was a little fast on the draw with my ‘lefty refusnik’ comment – my apologies. I guess I have an ongoing annoyance with a certain trait that does not allow any contact with those (Jews) beyond the Green Line. That kind of refusal to face the ‘other’ strikes me as coming from a place of wanting to be on the perceived moral high ground, not from a place of truly wanting to do something about the situation.
    As far as your questions about what to do, i.e. driving (using gas) getting clothes (sweatshops), using paper (forests) and yes, visiting settlements (not necessarily saying they are ok I think) well, you can drive yourself crazy like that. I think the best way is to do what we can in a conscious way without going overboard, and encourage others to do the same. If everyone did a little, well… that’s a lot. A cliche, but true.
    Arie: Well, I find myself honing in on the radical center, which means being against extremism. People can believe what they want and do what they want, but a haredi Jew won’t set foot in a non-kosher place, that’s extreme to me. Likewise someone who won’t go to a settlement b/c in their mind it says that said settlement is okay. If I go to visit Rav Fruman in Tekoa, one of the foremost religious peace activists in the region, am I really saying the occupation is ok? Is there a difference between a settlement of Jews across the Green Line and the actual kibush?
    Another topic: Right wing hippy religious Jews. Yes it is a trip. Do you know a huge amount of organic produce was grown in Gush Katif, and, so my sources tell me, a lot of kind ganja also?
    One reason I think is: Shlomo Carlebach, the OG religious hippy, who drew many people close to Judaism. He was ecumenical, but towards the end of his life he also became very vocally supportive of the settlers. Many families followed his teachings, had kids, influenced others, etc. Another reason is the whole back to the land kind of thing – hippies love that.

  16. YB,
    Thanks for measured, considered, and respectful reply to my incendiary comment. I can hear the difficulty you have, appreciating (and even thirsty for) the way of being of these communities, but not able to stomach some of the political positions that seem to be tied up in that.
    You can catch a lot of the Bat Ayin Band’s music at:
    http://batayin.org/projects/musicfrombatayin.htm
    (one of the links is broken, but the rest seems to be there.)
    BTW: Can I plug our summer program here? Of course I can!
    http://www.batayin.org/summer
    Jews of all stripes welcome – left, right, and center.

  17. Jews of all stripes welcome – left, right, and center.
    —’laizer · June 11th, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Ah, ‘laizer, I just have to clarify your statement for the fine folks: Men, Jewish MEN of all stripes — “The summer program is open to men who have at least a basic facility in reading Hebrew texts.” Unless Bat Ayin has had a change of heart recently?
    [Thanks for the links.]

  18. GDrum writes:
    That kind of refusal to face the ‘other’ strikes me as coming from a place of wanting to be on the perceived moral high ground, not from a place of truly wanting to do something about the situation.
    The irony here speaks for itself.

  19. YB –
    Clarification accepted, but I have to point out – it’s not the heart that needs be changed. We are unequivocally in favor of women’s learning, we just have our hands full running one school, two’s outside the pale right now. Luckily, Rav Raz is taking up the charge…
    ‘laizer

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