Nostalgia Sunday – 50 Years of Israeli Club Culture
Anhedonia is “an inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events” and in addition to being the working title for Wood Allen’s “Annie Hall” – it also describes a feeling Israelis wrestle with on a daily basis.
Nissan Shor, is the author of the new book “Dancing With Tears in Their Eyes,” a history of fifty years of dance clubs in Israel. In it, Shor – a music writer turned cable show host – makes a case for the tension between Israel’s often grim security situation, and just wanting to have fun, as unique.
The book (available only in Hebrew but with lots of pictures that, because of copyright issues, can’t be posted) deals with places that played recorded music only, from so-called Salon Parties held in living rooms in the late 1950s to Dance Nation clubs such as Jerusalem’s Haoman 17 in the late 1990s. It does not, notes Shor, deal with “night clubs or variety clubs where there were performances, like magicians, jugglers or live music.” Over the decades, he says, “In Israel there has always been a de-legitimization of people who want to dance and have a good time, because of our national situation.”
“Throughout, we see people whose desire to have fun becomes an antiestablishment act. And a young person who dances isn’t necessarily protesting the establishment but the ideological hegemony is so strong, that people who deviate for the purposes of pleasure become, whether consciously or unconsciously, anti-nationalistic. You can’t just dance and be normal.”
Shor touches on the non-conformist bohemia of the early Yishuv pre-State settlement – whose Foxtrotting tea-dances were condemned by the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, who wrote, “What emptiness! What tastelessness!… Degeneration and hollow soullessness!”
But the book really gets started with the introduction of Rock ‘n Roll and the noar salon (literally, “living room youngsters) Israeli-style Greasers later immortalized in the movie Eskimo Limon (Lemon Popsicle). Says Shor: “They didn’t go to Zionist youth movements because the framework – uniforms, hierarchy – wasn’t their style. They wanted to be like the other young people all over the world, wear jeans and leather jackets, listen to Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. And by the way, there were noar salon who went to both youth movement and dance parties.”
The summer of 1965 marked a milestone in the history of Israeli clubbing, when the first discotheque opened on the veranda of the Hammam nightclub in old Jaffa. The venue, owned by author Dan Ben Amotz and poet Haim Hefer, was leased out to entrepreneur Rafi Shauli – a key figure in the creation of a new paradigm in Israeli nightlife. Shauli really deserves a full column devoted to his accomplishments, but it should be noted that in addition to the many clubs he opened in the 1960s and 70s, (Mandy’s, Mandy’s Cherry and Mandy’s Singing Bamboo – all in honor of then-wife, the glamorous and scandalous Mandy Rice-Davies), he also opened HaMoadon in 1977, a members-only discotheque that raised the bar for all clubs in the Jewish State.
The phenomenon “gave rise to serious debates in the Knesset from all ends of the spectrum about the deterioration of Zionism and all sorts of dangers to the nation’s future. And this discussion comes up every few years. When the Coliseum club opened in 1982, around when the [first] Lebanon war broke out, the national debate was ‘how can people dance when others are dying?’, and [state-run] Channel One called it ‘the last days of Pompeii.’ The 80s New wave clubs – Penguin, Sirocco, Liquid, Kolnoa Dan – said rock had to be sung in English,” leading to another outcry. “And when the second intifiada broke out, the national debate was about the ‘Tel Aviv bubble’. It’s constant.”
Photo by Moshe Milner
In the early Nineties, euphoria over the Oslo Accords and the promise of a New Middle East, dovetailed perfectly with the introduction of muti-channel television and increased Western cultural influence in Israel. “The Israeli electronic dance music revolution came in with the consumer revolution, chains stores, cable TV – and Ecstasy. By 1997-98, it dominated youth culture.” That euphoric balloon, he adds, “burst with the second Intifada.”
Given that clubs have become a target for terrorists, Shor says that going clubbing during times of high alert has evolved into a form of national pride for some young people. “For example, right before the first Gulf War, there were ‘End of the World’ parties. After the suicide bomber attack at the Dolfi-Disco, the club re-opened and the kids kept on coming. It wasn’t heartlessness. It was saying, ‘No, you won’t stop me living my life.’”
Shor worked on the book for four years, inspired by his own love of nightlife, and the lack of an authoritative source on the subject. “I saw there was this genre of literature in other countries. I think that the conflict, that the subject deviates from the conventional, is one reason why no such book had been written. And this book tries to analyze that convention and introduce it into the Israeli discourse. It seemed right from an Israeli point of view.”
The generations of accidental rebels, he adds, “Weren’t trying to be political protesters. It was a rebellion only because of their actions, trying to live a western life in Israel. I think this is true Zionism – to live as every other nation. I think Herzl would have preferred endless partying to endless war.”
Video: Haoman 17 Jerusalem closes