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Jews in the Age of Authenticity

Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Israel

Series:

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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Introduction: Jews in the Age of Authenticity

Extract

A Tale of Two Communities As the blazing heat of the Judean Desert begins to subside on a Saturday night in July 2005, Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi sits at home in Metzoke Dragot and sends off an email to his community’s mailing list. Just a few months earlier, Hama- kom’s grounds had been teeming with life: adults, children, and pets making the rounds; communal meals being enjoyed beneath the palm trees in the central yard; and emotional, teary-eyed meetings taking place. Now, though, Metzoke Dragot is practically empty. Most of the members have already left, dispersing throughout the country, leaving only one other Hamakom member besides Ezrahi behind. Yet even these last two holdouts would depart within a year. Ezrahi is indeed also preparing to leave. However, as the person who envi- sioned, founded, and led the community throughout its five-year existence, he feels a need to inform Hamakom’s friends about the state of the community’s affairs and his own plans for the future. Certainly, many people other than the ‘formal’ members of the community were involved in this unique endeavor. 2 jews in the age of authenticity Over the years, the community hosted hundreds of people in their weekly and holiday events such as kabbalat Shabbat services, classes, and workshops, and its collapse dismayed quite a few Israeli New Agers. Here, then, are the contents of Ezrahi’s email: This is my last night here, in my home in Metzoke Dragot. Tomorrow I take off for the US for the summer;...

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