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Footloose in Jerusalem: Hear no evil, see no evil

The dancers of a Jerusalem-based company are organizing a protest against a policy designed to shield the eyes of passersby who would rather pretend they don’t exist

Three years ago, I worked for the Kolben Dance Company, whose base is in the Gerard Bechar Center in Jerusalem. Today and tomorrow, joined by a group of supporters, the dancers of this company will protest the enforcement of a closed curtain policy in the studio. Their plan is to strip down the curtains, which the director of the center ordered be closed during workings hours, and perform outside of their studio. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke out, saying that he was never consulted on the matter of the closed curtains.

Gerard Bechar is in a neighborhood populated by both secular and religious people. The company is funded in part by the government. One wall of the studio faces the piazza of the center, letting in light and occasionally attracting a few spectators. Aside from wearing ratty sweat pants and coming into physical contact with one another, the dancers of this company do nothing provocative or unseemly. However, the pack of religious men who regularly patrol the Gerard Bechar Center have a bone to pick with the company.

When I worked there, these men used to bash on the windows if the curtains were even one foot away from being closed – meaning that a passerby could see our feet. They were bare feet usually, but feet nonetheless. It was terrifying. In the middle of a workday, we would all of a sudden hear booming noises, as if the glass was about to smash. It was bad enough that there was no natural light in the studio. There were also campaigns to destroy all posters of the company, as they presented women in immodest clothing. And several times during my stay in the troupe, the windows and outside walls were graffitied by locals. There was never any proof of who did it but the overall message was clear. Not welcome!

Knowing that the fact of our existence as dancers was somehow offensive to these people and that they had no problem to demonstrate that sentiment in various aggressive and violent ways was awful. Last time I checked, dancing was not a crime. Will Jerusalem allow its religious population to push the city back into the Footloose era?

UPDATE: This post initially termed the planned act of the Kolben Dance Company a “strike.” It has been corrected to describe it as a protest, which is more accurate.

Related posts:

No, a woman’s voice is not “pubic” – the song must go on
Despite High Court ruling, gender segregation in Israel only expanding

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    1. aristeides

      Strike? Isn’t this the dance company that plans to leave the curtains wide open?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      The “religious” and “secular” (I hate labels, hence the quotes) need to learn to live together in Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Israel. Good will from both sides is needed. In this case, I think the “religious police” are out of line.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Henry Weinstein

      May I suggest to present to the puritan mob a detailed estimate for Shielding Tinted Windows Films – of course, the more expensive on the market – designed to enhance optical clarity while shielding your (censored) anatomies from UV and their (censored) libido, and to campaign explaining it’s up to them to do the right thing, that is to say to pay the bill.
      Another possibility – inspired by Yossi Gurvitz’s Goat Method – would be to customize your curtains with some suggestive hardcore gay posters, with a sign explaining: “No women, no immodest clothing”.

      Reply to Comment
    4. AYLA

      I share Mitchell Cohen’s desire (yearning) for the religious and secular to respect each other in this country, and in doing so, to find and recognize all the middle ground between them. As an American, I was struck at first by all these so-called secular jews, doing things that only religious jews do in the U.S. (cleaning for Pesach), and knowing the bible as well as they do. I’m sure it works both ways (all things do), but I can see how the intolerant religious (I’m calling these men banging on the dance studio window and example of this) turn the average Israeli off from religion. I also believe that if you’re really so committed to Torah, you aren’t looking into dance studio windows, feeling threatened by what others are doing, and/or judging them. If a woman singing threatens your practice or spiritual wellbeing, maybe you need to check yourself. Afterall, when Miriam led the women out of Egypt in song and dance, were the men out of range? You think?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jan

      It is time to take these uber religious and put them into a walled-in ghetto in the middle of the Negev where they won’t bother others who want to live their lives in peace. Let them deal with each other and see how they like it.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      @Jan–Nooooo! not the Negev! (that’s where I live). 🙂 Also, on a serious note, you may as well be talking about the detention center for african refugees that they’re building down here; is this going to become the Left AND the Right’s solution to dealing with human beings we consider to be a problem for us?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Lightbringer

      The “religious” and “secular” (I hate labels, hence the quotes) need to learn to live together in Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Israel. Good will from both sides is needed. In this case, I think the “religious police” are out of line.
      It is not going to happen in Jerusalem.

      Rest of Israel – maybe, for a while, but certainly not in Jerusalem.

      The reason is that city itself is much more important to religious people than to secular.

      Reply to Comment
    8. AYLA

      @lightbringer–bring a little more light, dude. I disagree. The so-called secular also choose Jerusalem because of a deep love for the city, though they feel driven out both by Anglo money and culture (more english than hebrew, I’ve heard Israelis say), and by religious people who believe that their love for Jerusalem is the only true/high/right love. all you have to do is go to the Kotel as someone dressed in an unreligious (yet respectful) way to experience this. Some religiously observant people truly love Jerusalem; some bow to it, like an idol, and do not use their hearts (love) in their religious practice as much as unobservant Jerusalem residents do in their daily lives. These are false dichotomies. perpetuating false dichotomies does not bring light.

      Reply to Comment
    9. AYLA

      @lightbringer–what about all the religious american jews who buy property in Jerusalem and don’t even live there (and keep their homes empty and have gardeners and cleaners and feel they’re supporting Israel’s economy and putting Israelis to work (I won’t even touch this from a palestinian perspective…); how much do THEY love Jerusalem, on a scale of 1 to 10? 😉

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mitchell Cohen

      @Ayla, I agree with you last post wholeheartedly and I am an American ex-pat. I think it is atrocious that people from overseas (whether from America, England, France, or elsewhere) buy homes in Jerusalem and only live in them for a few weeks out of the year, thus a) turning neighborhoods into ghost-towns and b) bringing up prices for those of us who live here year round and are struggling to find affordable homes to buy that are larger than the size of a closet. I am all for these proposed laws that limit the percentage of apartments to be bought from those who do not live here.

      That being said, let’s not confuse Americans who barely live here and buy homes to those who live here year round and contribute a lot to Israel (regarding the post before your last). Israel is a melting pot of different cultures (including Anglo), so I don’t think “Anglo culture” in Israel should be frowned upon anymore than Russian or Moroccan culture should be….

      Reply to Comment
    11. AYLA

      @Mitchell–that’s a really good point about me being more/differently sensitive about Anglo culture here than any other immigrant circles who might stay insular. I think I am guilty of that in certain respects–thanks for making me aware of it! Meanwhile, though, I have heard many Israeli-born Israelis who love Jerusalem say that they hear more English than Hebrew there now, and it is often the dollar or euro — including by citizens/residents — coupled with the expulsion of Palestinians that has changed the city so much in the last few decades (or so I hear, and I can imagine this). In any case, the more important point I was trying to make was about the so-called secular and religious and their love for the city, as quantitatively measured by so-called lightbringer.
      the ghost town factor is insane, isn’t it? And for exactly the reasons you sited. Some of those homes have lights and trisim on automatic timers. I may have to set a short story around one of those places. It’s creepy.

      Reply to Comment
    12. AYLA

      cited. not sited. I blame ulpan.

      Reply to Comment
    13. AYLA

      and while I’m blaming, I blame you, Ori, for the fact that I’ve had the Footloose song in my head all week. ;). Also, seriously.

      Reply to Comment

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