Hassidism at Boombamela

Michael GolombA long-time disciple of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and a seasoned grassroots organizer, Michael Golomb used to spend his efforts marching against the Vietnam War. But since moving to Israel along with many of Carlebach’s Hassidim as part of that community’s mid-Seventies exodus from Haight-Ashbury, Golomb has busied himself with spreading a message of love at gatherings, encounter events and festivals – even mainstream, teenybopper-y ones like Boombamela, Shantipi and Beresheet.

Golomb and his crew have helped to organize Tents of Love and Prayer at several of these festivals, with the sub-camp serving as a festival within a festival for many party-goers. According to a statement released this week by director Guy Peleg, Boombalema’s planners love Carlebach-style Judaism because of its emphasis on happiness and love of mankind, making Golomb’s contributions key elements to the eye-opening, pan-spiritualist experience Peleg is trying to forge.

At the festivals, the Tent of Love and Prayer offers kosher food (which is even harder to come by during Passover), prayer services, meditation sessions, low-impact lectures and the like.

But it’s not always easy to keep one’s mind on lofty ideas when corporate sponsorship banners are flying high and scantily clad perky young ones are doing the same. And the mainstream festival circuit has received plenty of criticism in recent years about these trends from the hippie hardcore populace that first provided their critical mass about a decade ago. But Carlebach-style outreach was never afraid of “elevating the sparks” (as the Hassidic masters might have put it) out from the ditches. As The Chicago Tribune did put it back in 2007:

…Carlebach was one of the first emissaries of the Lubavitcher movement, a Hasidic group that pioneered outreach to disaffected Jews in the 1950s. Carlebach found himself particularly drawn to lost souls: drug addicts, runaway young people, the homeless.

Golomb carries this torch proudly, dancing while carrying a Torah scroll into the throngs of drum circle, sunset-hailing revelers at the opening evening of each festival. And it’s nice to see Boombalema’s leadership, which essentially represents the ultimate in the crossroads between mainstream pop culture and new-age (which usually means post-Jewish) spiritualism, appreciating his efforts.

This year’s three-day Boombamela Festival on Nitzanim Beach is set to kick off on April 9, with plans for this year including utilization of solar energy to cut down on electricity waste by half.

The Simpsons to bring peace to Israel

March 27, 2009 - 12:25 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, coexistence, History and Culture, Politics, Pop Culture, Travel 

The Simpsons flee AustraliaLike most existential quarrels, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a nuanced and tricky beast. Those on the outside often take a paternalistic, “Oh, those silly Middle Easterners, why can’t they just realize that coexistence is the way to go, put their weapons down and start getting along?” attitude.

In the minds of most Israelis, I’d wager, this perspective is naïve and can lead to disaster. Many have argued that Bill Clinton’s personal need to end his presidency on a positive note led to over-simplified tactics at Camp David, which in the end backfired and brought about the Second Intifada.

I’m not sure that that thesis is itself sufficiently nuanced, but diplomacy analysis aside, a similarly paternalistic outsider’s view that has informed many tongue-in-cheek pop culture Mideast peace comments. And these comments also come off to us locals as either refreshingly naïve (as in the case of the dreamy conclusion of Tom Robbins’s Skinny Legs and All) or as not necessarily adding to the discussion but amusing nonetheless (especially when they are aimed at exposing the hypocrisies and general lack of vision among our leaders, like when Bruno stopped by last summer).

And our beloved Simpsons, probably one of the greatest TV shows of all time, if not the greatest, has a dodgy track record when it comes to understanding cultural nuances from an insider’s perspective. It’s all part of being an irreverent, edgy comedy.

According to Ha’aretz, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are headed our way in the coming months:

Multiple media sources have quoted the show’s executive producer, Al Jean, as saying that America’s number one animated family will head to the Holy Land next year.

“I think we’re going to do one next year where they go to the Holy Land as we haven’t been there yet. The premise will be that the Christians, the Jews and Muslims are united in that they all get mad at Homer. It’s the only thing they can agree on,” Jean said.

Sometimes the international ethnic and otherwise-sensitive communities don’t manage to take The Simpsons with the appropriate grains of salt. Racial stereotypes as regular characters? But of course. Accusations of homophobia? You got it. And then there are the recurring episodes where the family travels internationally, ripping apart the cultural and ethnic mores of China, Italy, African banana republics, Ireland and Japan. They’re exceedingly funny, but sometimes people get offended. When the Simpsons traveled in South America in a 2002 episode, the Tourism Board of Rio de Janeiro reportedly seriously mulled a lawsuit against the Fox Network for libel. Or slander. Or something.

The episode that kicked off this recurring series is 1996′s “Bart vs. Australia,” which supposedly had Aussies in such a tangle that letter writing campaigns and public censuring ensued. But a closer reading of that episode reveals that it’s all tongue-in-cheek – its very plotline focuses on the Americans’ laughable lack of understanding of anything non-American, which is carried out throughout as the starting point of many quality jokes. The family barely escapes (pictured) with their lives.

So just because the Simpsons talk or act in a certain way, doesn’t mean that the show’s writers or producers want its audience to follow suit. But when it comes to Mideast peace, why not? Sometimes a little naïveté is what we need to break out of our most self-perpetuating, defeatist grooves.

Among the wildflowers

March 26, 2009 - 1:34 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Environment, Life 

As Rachel wrote last week, wildflowers are in full bloom as the “rainy season” ends. The Modi’in area is saturated with beautiful flowers and one of the city’s greatest treasures is Givat Titora, a 140 acre green space with hiking trails, ruins, cisterns is currently the city’s main attraction and a popular spot for locals. Shockingly, contractors have been trying to get a hold of this land for years to build apartments. This site, set up to oppose construction on Titora, outlines the rich history of the hill. Titora is one of Modi’in’s greatest assets and the very thought of construction there sickens me.

On Friday I took my daughter to Titora for what we call an “adventure” – which is my way of branding something that she might not be able to get her head around. Right before her nap I told her when she awakens we were going to go smell the flowers. She was pretty stoked when she got up and starting screaming “FLOWERS! FLOWERS!” so I immediately threw her (well, placed her actually) in the car and took off! Here are a couple of photos from the afternoon.

Red Flower

Purple Flower

Tzofi in the flowers

Israeli wine buying season – even on a budget

March 24, 2009 - 11:04 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Food, History and Culture 

Zion winery's cabThe weeks leading up to Passover represent the lion’s share of the kosher wine industry’s annual sales. Just like December is the peak season for general retail revenues every year, post-Purim early spring is where it’s at for kosher wine transaction volume. Young wines from the fall harvest are starting to be bottled and marketed at this time, and those handling the wine buying for a Seder must procure enough for the proverbial four cups consumed by each participant as part of the Haggadah’s rituals, meaning around one full bottle per person – plus whatever’s consumed separately during the meal.

And just as consumer retail columnists formulated analyses and advice columns this past December, focusing on how to make solstice holiday purchases where one garners maximum bang for one’s buck in today’s tough economic climate, Ha’aretz‘s renowned wine critic Daniel Rogov recently released a highly practical guide to affordable spring 2009 kosher Israeli wines:

For several years, knowledgeable wine drinkers have known that the best buys in the country were the Tabor, Galil Mountain and Dalton wineries as well as in the Gamla series of the Golan Heights Winery. Those wines are now being joined by wines from the Zion winery and, while those may not make for the most sophisticated drinking, they do offer excellent value.

He goes on to rate nine kosher Zion winery (their Hebrew-only official site) products, all of which falling well within his “good to very good” stratum of scoring.

Rogov is getting out there more and more nowadays, serving as a formidable advocate of Israeli oenophilia. I’ve written about Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV before, and the enthusiastic eccentric personality also seemingly has Passover fever nowadays, having welcomed Rogov himself recently on the program (check out the fascinating 38-minute episode here). The banter-laden rapport between the two alone makes the video worth watching.

To Israeli wine lovers like you and me, this is not all big news (the fact that kosher wine no longer exclusively resembles cough syrup, and the fact that great Israeli wine is not exclusively kosher – we’ve known these things for years), but it’s great to see more and more mainstream wine-oriented media channels recognizing the quality coming out of this part of the world.

Would-be women of the IDF busted shirking and snogging

March 20, 2009 - 10:54 AM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Religion, War 

Religious teen women of IsraelThe way the Israeli army interfaces with religion is not so straightforward, which makes sense in a land where the separation between synagogue and state is still being sorted out. The IDF’s Rabbinate came under scrutiny this winter for attempting to boost soldiers’ morale on shaky theological grounds.

And the Rabbinate is notorious for being stingy when it comes to handing out shaving exemption papers for soldiers looking to be able to wear beards based on their interpretation of Biblical commandments, sometimes telling soldiers that they’re “not religious enough” to qualify for the exemption. But if it’s a rabbi’s goal to foster observance, he ought to embrace the individual’s interests, regardless of that individual’s flaws or hypocrisies.

In a society where we are constantly being pigeonholed due to what we’re wearing on our heads and elsewhere on our bodies, I don’t know about you, but my inclination is to say, “Please don’t put me in a box. I’m a real person, not a tidy category.”

Of course, embracing the religious grey area gets trickier when we’re talking about exemption from serving in the army altogether. Ditching the draft is relatively common among Israel’s Orthodox, for better or for worse, and the mechanisms for obtaining exemptions on religious grounds are relatively straightforward, making pleading religious a tempting option even for those who might not necessarily truly have theological qualms with the experience of being a soldier.

After years of turning a blind eye, more or less, to this phenomenon, the IDF is getting smart and trying to crack down on young women who “lie” and plead religious. Sure, it’s possible that a young woman who is too observant to serve, whatever that means, might experience a lapse in faith, but in general, if the army’s detectives catch you making out with someone, you should probably suit up.

“We need those girls, Lt. Col. Gil Ben Shaoul, deputy commander of Israel’s military recruitment center,” told The Associated Press.

The Israel Defense Forces says the surveillance program began last year and has caught 520 young women, many who admitted they did not deserve the religious exemption and signed up for military service.

….Catching the draft-dodgers is fairly straightforward: It takes one weekend, said Ben Shaoul. The young women are usually caught driving on Saturday, drinking or smoking.

Many who attempt to shirk the draft justify doing so on the grounds that women aren’t given “real” opportunities in the IDF.

“I served for two years doing nothing. All the girls do nothing,” said Shiran Cohen, 24, a university student. She said she was assigned to check on ammunition stockpiles during her service, but was frequently sidelined by men in her unit.

Although being a woman in the army can’t be easy, this excuse simply doesn’t hold water. I have fond memories of my days serving in the IDF’s Shiryon (armored corps) unit, where everything I learned about tanks was taught to me by women.

On the first day of tank training, the training officers took me and my fellow conscripts out to the open field and gave us a powerful demonstration of tank maneuvering and weaponry. The audience loved it. When the demo was over, the tanks pulled around and parked by the bleachers where we sat. The hatches opened, and out came four women from each vehicle. Surprise surprise. The bleachers shook with hooting, extra applause and jumping up and down as a special reaction for the ladies. It was a bit embarrassing, and it might serve to highlight how rough it must be to get respect as a woman soldier, but the point is that the opportunities are there for those who are motivated to go after them.

Image of Israeli modern Orthodox teenage women courtesy sethfrantzman from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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