A Zany Israeli Television Drama Explores the World of Hip, Mizraḥi Yeshiva Students

Jan. 29 2018

The Israeli television series Shababnikim follows three students of Mizraḥi (i.e., Middle Eastern or North African) origin at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. Shai Secunda writes in his review:

Shababnikim gets its name from the modern Hebrew slang term for yeshiva boys on the margins. The word’s etymology—from the Arabic shabab (“youth”) capped by the Yiddish suffix -nik—hints at the charged hybridity of Mizraḥi yeshiva students in Ashkenazi institutions, and the show mines this tension for dramatic effect. For example, despite his best efforts to adopt the dress and diction of Ashkenazi ḥaredi culture, [one of the students], Meir, is demeaned by yeshiva officials and matchmakers for his North African roots. When his hardscrabble Mizraḥi neighborhood welcomes him home as a rock star—drinking in his Torah lessons and eagerly accepting his fertility blessings—Meir is awakened to his own Sephardi sexiness. As one neighbor observes, he looks like a cross between Marlon Brando and the equally stylish former chief rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

To its credit, Shababnikim explores the fault lines between secular and ḥaredi [Israelis] with a successful combination of seriousness and silliness. Avinoam wants nothing more than to be part of broader, secular Israeli society. He buys his dark suits at Zara and takes pride in winning a football match—without realizing that though they may shop at Zara, secular Israelis dress casually and know nothing about American football. . . .

Contrary to popular conception, top ḥaredi institutions, like the Jerusalem-based Hebron yeshiva (“the Harvard of yeshivas,” as the show puts it), house stylish, relatively worldly yeshiva students who, alongside a steady diet of Lithuanian [talmudic erudition], enjoy short espressos, long secular novels, and Van Damme action movies. Perhaps most shocking to viewers are the scenes of our shababnikim casually studying late at night in their underwear, to the strains of Israeli soft rock and the sweet drag of a cigarette. . . . [T]heir remarkable comfort in their own skins and willingness to flirt with hedonism and heresy is a legacy of East European yeshiva life, . . . where some students imagined themselves philosopher princes who should dress smartly and not fret about excessive pieties.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Haredim, Israeli society, Mizrahi Jewry, Television, Yeshiva

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank