In the spirit of culture

In the spirit of culture

October 29, 2009 21:08
3 minute read.

The Eighth Jewish Music and Theater Festival of Gush Etzion caused a great deal of dissonance within the religious Zionist community. The statistics speak volumes: There are more than 3,000 religious women's theater groups, not including in haredi society, where in some of its more open communities, this phenomenon is also making headway. In the ulpanot (religious girls' high schools), theater or art courses have become a "must," greatly increasing the number of art and drama teachers over the past few years. "We're talking about a revolution," says poet and Kibbutz Kfar Etzion resident Eliaz Cohen, artistic director of the festival in the Gush and co-founder and head of the poetry review Meshiv Haruah and its annual poetry festival. Cultural revolution though it may be, there are more and more signs indicating that whatever is happening to the cultural and artistic landscape of the religious Zionist community, things do not always run smoothly. There is growing concern among the spiritual leaders that things might go too far. "Despite the rabbis' warning not to attend the opening concert of the festival because a woman (Etti Ankri) and a man (Ehud Banai) sang on the same stage, many of the Gush Etzion residents attended Ankri's beautiful - and very modest - concert," wrote Hanna Pinhasi, co-director of the festival and PhD student in gender studies at Bar-Ilan University. Pinhasi wrote in a column on the Ynet news site that she couldn't understand why the rabbis had decided to turn their constituency into sinners by forbidding the concert. "I was there," she wrote. "With God's help, I managed to get one of the last tickets. Faith and music became one on that stage; the secular were raised up to [level of] the holy, and the public felt close to these two artists, so different and yet so close in their spiritual quest. The public, almost exclusively bourgeois religious, seemed eager to take from the two performers some of their deep faith as one would take a flame from a fire, to take some of the faith they found in their art. What fault can the rabbis find in this?" Cohen, a poet who had to find his own way of injecting eros and religion into his poetry, was also concerned. "There is a real and deep thirst for creativity and artistic expression within our society; and while I can understand the concern, I am convinced that nothing will stop this explosion of creativity. This is a real renaissance of our Judaism, this is a revolution; we can see and feel it everywhere." Cohen sounded a little less optimistic three days later when the closing event, scheduled at Tekoa, had to be changed at the last moment, causing disappointment to the large audience that had come to see an exciting spiritual musical evening featuring rock star Berry Sakharof and Tekoa's famous - and some would add controversial - rabbi, Menahem Fruman. Fruman had been studying with Sakharof for a while, and the closeness between the two sparked the idea to include a special performance that would combine music and spiritual discourse. The organizers tried to keep it secret, perhaps to save it as an evening for the residents of the Gush and perhaps also for fear that there would be too much political pressure on the artists not to perform in the "territories." But the secret was not so well kept, and in the end Sakharof didn't show up, leaving his many fans disappointed and even offended. According to the official version given by his managers, the reason was not political but practical: They didn't like the idea that only a few days before his tour to launch his new CD based on four years of work and dedicated to medieval poet Shlomo Ibn-Gvirol, Sakharof would be giving a free performance for an audience, a large part of which was expected to fill the Jerusalem Theater at his concert a week or so later. "Whatever the reason behind the cancellation of Sakharof's performance in Tekoa," says Cohen, "this very program and disc, and all the other performances and creativity inscribed in our Jewish culture and heritage conveyed through each artist are proof that something really big is happening to within our community, and that's the most important issue here."

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