USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘israeli’
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shabbat Khayal

The informant is an Israeli American who grew up practicing traditions from both her Israeli and Persian culture. She describes a custom surrounding the sending off and return of teenagers who are drafted as soldiers. The informant recalls one of these parties that she attended when she was young.

  • Shabbat Khayal is an Israeli tradition having to do with young soldiers. There is a kind of sending off that people do, when they first are um drafted. And so people have you know: goodbye parties, they’ll have um celebrations and then everybody holds their breath until soldiers get through their training which is like an intensive three months that they don’t really see family and its you know really crazy and they don’t really see their families and then there is a homecoming and thats a really big deal. The moms will buy all their favorite food and snacks and cook all their favorite meals and get their rooms ready and its like a whole you know and theres an excitement and build up when the family comes over and everybody wants to hear stories and see how that teenager has changed… so um theres that kind of anticipation and you know people know who’s son is coming home and this home’s daughter is coming home and there is a lot of support in the community around it. And once they’re placed within the army, and they kind of know what they are going to be doing for the next two or three years, then they get weekends off here and there, and those weekends are a really big deal. You know, same thing happens- you know family gets together, everybody comes for shabbat, the soldiers are like center of attention. Again everything with the food, they do their laundry, they make sure that they’re resting, that they’re seeing their friends, its like a whole big thing when a soldier is home. And i think thats in the fabric of pretty much every Israeli family.
  • Sometimes people will take them to see a rabbi or someone for a blessing before they send them back out- depending on their background and culture you know if they’re Persian, Ashkenazi Jews, but some people will take them to someone and ask them to kind of say you know thank God, you made it through this far and then before we turn around and send him back you know give a blessing to make sure that he/she is safe and that God watches over them and that they come back to the family. So a lot of people will set something up like that or take them to Jerusalem or something kind of sentimental like that. 
  • I was apart of one of these rituals when I was a little younger for my cousin- it was such a build up, I mean you don’t really hear from them or have contact with them. I mean I can’t even think about what to compare it to here in America, I mean there is not really much- you’re sending a teenager away, and its a high schooler and they’ve just graduated and all of a sudden they are thrown into this entirely different setting, so I just remember my aunt getting everything ready and going to every different market and getting all his favorites and getting them all together and making sure it was all there. And then him coming home and looking so grown up and different and everybody wanting to hear all his stories and how is was, and what does he think he wants to do in the army, and how did he test, and he becomes that kind of center of attention and it will last all weekend, and people will spend the night, and want to be with them and yeah its very special. 

ANALYSIS:

I think that a traditions such at Shabbat Khayal are really important for families who have loved ones at war or in training. I think the whole celebration an already special occasion that much more intimate and important for both the family and the teenager. Most importantly, I believe that people continue to have these celebrations not only because it is tradition, but because it gives the family and the teenager something to think about and look forward too, instead of the family anxiously waiting around for the teenager to return they have the opportunity to run around preparing and gathering friends and family, focusing on what is most important in life.

 

 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Henna Celebration

The informant is an Israeli American who grew up practicing traditions from both her Israeli and Persian culture. She describes an Israeli bridal shower and all of her favorite parts of it.

  • Around a wedding time, a few weeks before there kind of all that build up around the bride and groom and the wedding takes a lot of planning and all that, but a couple weeks before many of, um, many different uh… how to do you say it… people from all different backgrounds in Israel, you know the Syrians do it one way, Iraqis do it a different way, but pretty much all of the do a henna, its kind of like a bridal shower, but nothing like insane, you know a lot more colorful, they are usually at night and not during the day, and they usually mix men and women. The bride is you know prepped, she has to get everything done, the harry the makeup, and then older ladies come and giver her different words of advice you know things to do, not to do, how to keep a marriage going. You know, of course there’s a big feast, there’s a big candy table thats set up with all different sweets that you take home. But not like a modern day, more like homemade sweets, you know things that grandma would know how to make. And different people bring different things. And then there is a henna mix that they make, and they put it on their hands, right. They will put like a scoop of it on your palm, and then on your beloved’s palm, and then they squeeze them together to make an imprint, so that you have the dye, the same dye. Your hand is in his, and they will do the same thing with the feet, and it’s kind of to symbolize that from here on they are one and you know that they have to find a way to make it work, and to say that may all their days be as sweet as this candy that they are serving. I would say this tradition is more Sephardic Jews, Persians definitely do it, but I know family friends that are Moroccan, Iraqi, definitely do a big thing with that as well. I don’t know about Ashkenazi Jews so much, but definitely Sephardic.
  • Yeah so this is just he Henna Celebration. You know, and she’s given a lot of jewelry, and the family will present her with jewelry, its kind of, its fun. It’s excessive in a way, in that she’s wearing everything, one on top of the other. The people eat, they drink, they dance. Its very different. You know I remember going to a bridal shower here and thinking: oh this is very, this is very tame. Where are the guys? And you know, I had one here in Los Angeles. Yeah, some people will put a gold coin, into the palm of the bride and grooms hand when they squeeze it to say that, may they have good fortune and be successful, and be able to help others not just provide for themselves. There’s a lot around it. Its very colorful. You can kind of imagine how Indian bridal celebrations are, they have a lot of action, a lot of food, lot of color, lot of flowers, candles. And then all the old people in the family coming forward with all kinds of goodies and words of encouragement and advice. Its different, very different. 

ANALYSIS:

I found it most interesting that the informant mentioned feeling like American bridal showers were tame. I also was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had one of these celebrations of her own here in Los Angeles. I think it is so important that people celebrate and bring their rituals and customs with them wherever they go.

Folk Dance

Israeli Folk Dance: Avre Tu

Link to video: Avre Tu

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

Informant’s description of dance: “This is a dance in the Ladino style. The Ladino language, or Judeo-Spanish, is very close to Spanish as it was spoken in the late middle ages. This particular dance is thought to be similar in style to Spanish dance of the late middle ages, although there is of course no way to verify this. The lyrics are a pleading romance.”

Ladino Jews—Jews expelled from Spain in the fifteenth century—travelled to the countries which accepted them, including Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and North Africa. Because they continued to live in Spanish-Jewish communities, many of their traditions, melodies, dances, etc. survive to this day. “Avre Tu” is one such dance. Now, of course, many non-Spanish Jews dance “Avre Tu”; the Ladino tradition is one of many diverse traditions from around the world that has been incorporated into creating Israeli culture.

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800′s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920′s and 1930′s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

Folk Dance

Israeli Folk Dance: Hashual

Link to Video: Hashual

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

“Hashual” is Hebrew for “fox.”

Informant’s description of dance: “This dance takes the form of a Romanian hora, reflecting Romanian influence. Its lyrics tell a story about a fox sneaking into a vineyard to steal some grapes, only to be chased away. The dance steps include kicking the fox and making clapping noises to scare it away. In performing this dance, our synagogue has a special tradition that, to my knowledge, is unique to us—small children sit in the center of the circle of dancers, where they pretend to be the foxes, screaming in terror as the dancers pretend to frighten them away.”

This relatively-new children’s dance is intergenerational, incorporating younger children into the dance tradition.

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800′s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920′s and 1930′s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

Folk Dance
general

Israeli Folk Dance: Hora Aggadati

Link to Video: Hora Aggadati

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

Informant’s description of dance: “Hora Aggadati is possibly the first true Israeli folk dance, whose origins date back to 1924 based on movements created by Baruch Aggadati, a noted Israeli dancer of that period. The dance as we know it today was adapted by Gurit Kadman (considered the “mother” of Israeli folk dance) back in the 1940’s.  One of the two parts of the music is adapted from an anti-Semitic song, and it’s incorporation into Hora Aggadati may have been a statement about the resilience of the Jewish people.”

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800’s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920’s and 1930’s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

Folk Dance
general

Israeli Folk Dance: Mayim, Mayim

Link to Video: Mayim, Mayim

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

Informant’s description of dance: “‘Mayim, Mayim’ (Hebrew for ‘Water, Water’) was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a ten year search.  This dance is entirely in the style of a Romanian women’s hora.”

Analysis: This dance arose during a period when huge numbers of immigrants came to Israel, wanting to work the land. Because Israel is a desert, these immigrants faced major hardships, including a severe lack of water. “Mayim, Mayim” captures people’s joy at finally discovering water.

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800′s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920′s and 1930′s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

Folk Dance

Israeli Folk Dance: Shir Al Etz

Link to Video: Shir Al Etz

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

“Shir Al Etz” is Hebrew for “On the Road.”

Informant’s description of the dance: “The first three parts of this four-part dance utilize the Chircassia step, but cannot be clearly linked to any particular dance tradition.  The fourth part has some distinctively Hassidic motions (the so-called “rita” step and side-to-side rocking).”

This is a later dance (choreographed in 1983), and is much more sophisticated than most of the earlier ones; it has more parts and is more musically-complex. The melody reflects Russian influences, particularly reminiscent of Russian romances, which are very poetic songs.

The lyrics perhaps make a statement about Jewish mothers, who are stereotypically overprotective. The lyrics can be found here:

http://www.hebrewsongs.com/song-shiraletz.htm

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800′s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920′s and 1930′s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

Folk Dance

Israeli Folk Dance: V’ahavta L’Reacha

Link to Video: V’ahavta L’Reacha

My informant currently teaches Israeli folk dancing on a volunteer basis at Congregation B’nai B’rith, a synagogue in Santa Barbara, California. Every Friday night, after services, some of the congregants will participate in Israeli folk dancing.

“V’ahavta L’Reacha” is Hebrew for “And You Shall Love Your Neighbor,” a phrase from the Hebrew Bible.

Informant’s description of the dance: “This is perhaps the quintessential example of a Hassidic dance, combining traditional dance steps with expressive hand gestures.”

In the Hassidic religious movement, dance is considered to be a form of prayer. In some parts of this dance, people gesture upward to the heavens, almost as if reaching to God.

Interview: General Background on Israeli Folk Dancing

Q. How long have you done Israeli folk dancing, and where did you learn?

A. I learned some dances as a child at my synagogue and at Jewish summercamp, but became serious about folk dancing only as an undergraduate in college.

Q. Where and when is Israeli folk dancing traditionally performed?

A. In both Israel and in the United States, some Israeli folk dancing is done at almost every major celebration, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and at weddings.  In both countries, some avid Israeli folk dancers are avowedly secular, and rarely if ever set foot inside a synagogue, while others are fairly observant.  Many synagogues have Israeli folk dancing on a regular basis.

Q. What is a folk dance?

A. There is no universally-accepted answer to the question “What is a folk dance?”, and it may be easier to explain what a folk dance is by contrasting folk dance with ballet, ballroom dance, disco and other pop forms of dance, and ceremonial dance.  There are four things that tend to make a dance a folk dance: (1) The form and style of a folk dance should conform to tradition, at least in part. (2) Folk dances are usually done to music of traditional style, but they can also be done to more modern, popular music. (3) Folk dances are done primarily by non-professionals (as opposed to ballet). (4) While a ballroom dance form such as the waltz can be done to many different pieces of music, most folk dances are done to only a single piece of music (although more than one folk dance may exist for the same piece of music). This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  A Polish or Czech polka might be danced to many different pieces of music having the same basic rhythm and similar tempos.

Q.  Folklorist Alan Dundes defines folklore as “multiplicity and variation.” Do you believe that this definition applies to Israeli folk dance?

A. For many Israeli folk dances, variants have developed over time.  In some cases, no one follows the original steps.  Some dances are done one way in Israel, a second way in the New York area, and a third way in California.  When people who have learned different variants dance together, this may create some mild friction, because the group as a whole is collectively producing a work of art when dancing, and the effect may be spoiled or at least marred if movements are discordant.

Q. How old is Israeli folk dance, and what cultures and traditions have influenced Israeli folk dance?

A. Israeli folk dance has been influenced by many folk dance traditions, and especially since 1970, by such non-folk-dance styles as ballet and jazz dance. Some Israeli dances (e.g., Yo Ya) have no folk elements at all, and are strictly speaking outside the stylistic limits of what can be considered folk dance. Most of the folk elements in Israeli dance come from older dance traditions.  Conveniently, these fall into four groups which I will list in order of decreasing importance: Yemenite Jewish dance, Eastern European dance, Hassidic Jewish dance, and the dances of two non-Jewish ethnic minority groups in Israel—Bedouin Arabs and Circassians.

The dances of the Halutzim (Jewish pioneers who came to what was then Palestine, beginning in the late 1800′s) were adaptations of such Eastern European folk dances as the Hora (Romanian), Krakoviak and Polka (Polish), and Korobushka (Russian). Some of these were introduced by the Socialist Zionists during the Second Aliyah period (approximately 1905-1914), when the first Kibbutzim (communal farms) were established.

The earliest true Israeli folk dances date back to the 1920′s and 1930′s. Hora Aggadati, choreographed in 1924, is probably the first true Israeli folk dance. Mayim Mayim was created in 1938 to commemorate the discovery of water at Kibbutz Na’an after a 10-year search. (The Hebrew word “Mayim” means “water”).

Shortly after the state of Israel was established in 1948, Israel began an amazing operation called Magic Carpet. From June 1949 through August 1950, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel by the Israeli government.   Jews were a persecuted and impoverished minority in Yemen, but after arriving in Israel, the Yemenite Jews soon began to have an important influence in all aspects of the arts, music, and dance.  Over 400 years old, the Yemenite Jewish dance tradition is one of the oldest and certainly the most important of the various strands that have contributed to Israeli dance.

In the 1950s, Israeli choreographers began introducing elements of Hassidic dance into Israeli folk dance. Hassidism is a mystical Jewish movement that began in Eastern Europe about 1740.  For the Hassidim, dance is not only an expression of joy and celebration, but also a form of prayer. Like other Orthodox Jews, Hassidic men and women never dance together.  Some elements of Hassidic dance are suggestive of prayer; these include rocking or swaying, heel touches, and raising one or both hands with the palm inwards, as though appealing to God.  At times, the styling of a Hassidic dance suggests intoxication, whether the source of the intoxication is religious fervor, alcohol, or a combination of the two is unclear.

Some Israeli dances, especially in the early days before Israel became a state (1948), were influenced by dances of two local non-Jewish ethnic groups, the Bedouin and the Circassians.  (The Bedouin are Arabs who were originally nomadic.).  The Bedouin dance form known as the Debka is a macho dance that the men do to impress the women; it typically includes stamps and unusual leaps (e.g., sideways leaps or crossover leaps). The Circassians are a tiny minority group in Israel; they are Moslem, but not Arab. They originally lived in the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.  After they were conquered by the Russians in 1864, many of the Circassians fled to various parts of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire, including Palestine.

Q. What makes Israeli folk dancing special?

A. Firstly, although Israeli folk dance is relatively new (roughly 80 years old), it is founded on much older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Also, unlike many folk dance traditions that have tried to remain “pure”, shunning outside influences or denying the existence of these influences, Israeli folk dance is continually absorbing influences from other folk and non-folk dance forms, and no one is the least bit ashamed of this.

Meanwhile, unlike many folk dance traditions, Israeli folk dance is highly egalitarian. In Israeli folk dance, there are no men’s dances or women’s dances. Anyone is free to do any dance. Also, in a Greek line dance, the dance leader (almost always a man) has a special role; he may direct the rest of the line to follow whatever he is doing, or he may choose to do special steps that are different from what everyone else is doing.  In Israeli folk dance, the leader of a line dance can choose where the line goes, but otherwise he or she has no special steps and no special prerogatives. The egalitarian nature of Israeli folk dance is a reflection of the early Zionist-socialist ideals, which taught that men and women are equal, and that no one should have any special status.

Q. Are new Israeli folk dances still written?

A. Israeli folk dance is growing and evolving more rapidly than any other folk dance tradition in the world. Some folk dance traditions are small and relatively static. For instance, there are only about 30 Greek folk dances.  Someone cannot just choreograph a new Greek folk dance and have it accepted into the canon. Some folk dance traditions are larger and more dynamic. For example, there are roughly 4,000 Romanian folk dances; some of these are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, but several Romanian folk dances were introduced in just the last decade (almost one new dance per year).

There are over 4,000 Israeli folk dances, and 50-100 new Israeli folk dances are introduced each year. To be fair about this, there are at least 200-300 Israeli folk dances that are “dead,” meaning that they are no longer danced.  Some Israeli dances have had brief flashes of popularity and then faded from the scene.  But, many Israeli dances have endured and remain popular half a century after their introduction.

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