Here’s a test: Say “settler.” Now close your eyes. What images pop into your
head? For most in Israel and abroad the derogatory term most-likely evokes
negative images thanks to stereotypes utilized by the mainstream media to brand
this group of so-called “messianic” fanatics.
You probably have two
images in your mind.
If you’re imagining a male settler, it’s probably a
gun-toting, bearded man on a hilltop, wearing a large crocheted kippa, with
flowing side curls and cloth fringes flapping in the wind.
If’s it’s a
female settler, perhaps you’re thinking of a woman with a long-sleeve shirt, a
modest skirt down to the floor, with her hair fully covered using some sort of
scarf, or a wrap resembling a turban. She’s probably carrying a baby, with
several other small, barefoot children strolling closely behind.
are some residents of Judea and Samaria who fit this mold. But in reality, the
nearly 400,000 Jewish inhabitants living in 153 cities, towns and communities
throughout this region are a highly diverse bunch.
Take for example
Elazar resident and professional dance teacher Yehudit Hirsch. Growing up in
Jerusalem, this 36- year-old, observant mother of four decided to make the move
from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion in 1999, because she and her husband “wanted to be
close to Jerusalem since we were both working there, and this is where we could
afford.” Hirsch, who says she grew up in a politically left-wing home, admits
that her husband, Ra’anan, also wanted to make the move “for ideological
Sitting in the spacious, modern kitchen of her brand new home
wearing a tank-top and shorts, with her blonde hair uncovered, Hirsch admits
that whether she is in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the center of the country,
because of her appearance, “It’s always a shock to people that I’m a settler.
Nobody believes me, because I’m more modern. They think that we’re all in long
skirts and only interested in ‘tag machir’ [‘price tag’
While it had never crossed her mind to teach dance when she
and her husband moved to Elazar, Hirsch, who began her career teaching Bible
studies in a secular school, started exploring other professional options since
she says her salary was just too low. After a short time she launched an
after-school dance program for girls in the area.
“The first year,”
Hirsch says, “I had only five girls in the class, which was held one hour a
week, and I was teaching out of a bomb shelter, since there wasn’t any other
By year two, Hirsch’s popularity grew, and she had 20
girls enrolled. But she soon realized that the girls in the course wanted more.
“I saw that the girls here were more in touch with modern culture and dance, and
wanted different types of classes including hip-hop and jazz.”
wasn’t all smooth sailing. Several groups of parents and local rabbis were
opposed to modern dance, with its focus on secular music and the potential for
immodest dress during the classes. However, in one particular meeting with an
influential local rabbi and community leader, Hirsch was able to convince him to
give the classes his stamp of approval.
“I explained to him that these
are modern-Orthodox girls, who are coming to me once a week to dance, where they
can forget themselves and have a release in a kosher environment and not in
front of men. I asked the rabbi if he preferred that the girls would sneak off
to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to dance provocatively in night clubs with members of
the other sex.”
Hirsch’s rationalize resonated, and she received a green
light from the rabbi. Skipping ahead 14 years to 2013, Hirsch now offers 12
different classes covering the full spectrum of dance methods to over 150
females ages four to adult in several Gush communities.
dance recital, held just last week in the Gush Etzion auditorium, drew hundreds
of parents, siblings and dance aficionados, to see a highly varied and
professional two-hour show. And to respect the modesty of the dancers, once the
girls of bat-mitzvah age and over took the stage, the fathers and all other men
present were asked to kindly step out.
But more than anything, Hirsch
seems to be most proud of the fact that through dance, she is able to reach out
to girls from a variety of backgrounds that might have been denied opportunities
in other settings throughout their lives.
“When I grew up dancing, they
would only take the skinny girls,” she says. “But I take girls of all sizes. I
also take girls who have no rhythm and put them in the front row of our shows,
and they are so happy.”
Hirsch says that she also works with girls who
have disabilities, citing a student in special education and another who has
Down syndrome. She says that she also teaches girls from broken homes who can’t
afford to pay for the classes. “Nobody is turned away; these girls dance for
free” she says. Another population she focuses on is girls suffering from
In addition, she offers her time as a volunteer dance
instructor in Elazar, designing performances for community ceremonies on the
holidays including Independence Day, as well as Purim. She is also one of the
volunteer choreographers of the “Dames of the Dance,” an all-women’s annual
dance show in the Gush, which raises funds for the needy leading up to
Admitting that “I’m not very political,” her optimism with
regard to peace with the Palestinians has shrunk since becoming a settler. “I’ve
changed my views over the years and am now more realistic... our neighbors don’t
want to coexist with us,” she says. She recounts how the Arabs workers who built
her new home deliberately “stuffed nylons and rocks into my pipes, so that the
toilets didn’t flush, and the showers didn’t work, and we had to replace
everything, spending thousands of shekels.”
“I was nice to them [the
workers] and friendly,” she says, “but after this, and being stoned on the
roads, I am now realizing that they just don’t want to be a part of our
Hirsch says that when she believed that peace was possible, “I
even thought of opening a dance studio in [the neighboring Arab village of] Beit
Jala. But reality set in, and I was afraid to do it.”
“I’m proud of who I
am and of living where of live,” she says. When asked what would happen if
Israel decided to give away her house and community to the Palestinians in a
future peace deal, Hirsch is adamant: “I would put up a fight. I’m not talking
about violence, but I would try to get the world involved. Where in England was
anyone forced to move out of their homes for political reasons? I would spend my
time waking up the world.”The writer is a media expert, freelance
journalist and host of Reality Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com.Photos
by Rebecca Kowalsky can be seen at www.imagesthroughtime.com
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