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Jews in the Age of Authenticity

Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Israel


Rachel Werczberger

In this book, Rachel Werczberger takes stock of the Jewish New Age spirituality scene in Israel at the turn of the millennium. Led by highly charismatic rabbis, the Hamakom and Bayit Chadash communities attempted to bring about a Jewish spiritual renewal by integrating Jewish tradition – especially Kabbalah and Hasidism – with New Age spirituality. Having spent over two years in field research, Werczberger presents a comprehensive ethnographic account of these two groups, examining their rise and fall after only six years of activity. At the core of their aspiration for Jewish spiritual renewal, claims Werczberger, was the quest for authenticity. She investigates the ways in which the language of authenticity was embraced by the members of the communities in their construction of a new spiritual Jewish identity, their re-invention of Jewish rituals, and their failed attempt at constructing community. She concludes that all these elements point to the dual form of politics of authenticity and identity with which the Israeli Jewish New Age is involved.


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Preface: From Dharamsala to Jerusalem


On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, September 1997, while backpacking in India, I found myself on the roof of a rickety building in the town of Dharamsala, along with twenty-five other Israeli backpackers. The travelers, most of whom had recently completed their military service or were, like me, university stu- dents on a break, had gathered in this pastoral Indian town, a longtime favor- ite of Israeli backpackers, to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Among the guests wearing colorful Indian shawls and messy dreadlocks, Rabbi Michi Yosephi, one of the service’s organizers, stood out. A tall and lanky Israeli in his thir- ties, the somewhat fierce-looking thick-bearded rabbi was wearing a large, white, knitted kippah, and tzitzit (ritual fringes) dangled from his hiking pants. Yosephi’s partner in this venture, Azriel Cohen, a gentle-featured Canadian- Jewish artist, was also present. Besides the two organizers and backpackers, there were a number of special guests: a half dozen young Jewish Buddhists from North America who had moved to McLeod Ganj and opened a restau- rant, on whose roof the event was being held. Yet, certainly, the most conspic- uous person on that roof was a non-Tibetan Buddhist monk in a crimson robe. Against the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, we sat in a circle on plastic chairs and recited an abridged version of the Rosh Hashanah eve service from photocopied pages of the prayer book. This was viii jews in the age of authenticity undeniably an unusual Jewish service: men...

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