Yes, you read that right. Tonight, I spent 4 hours Israeli dancing on the beach. Israeli dancing consists of line, circle, and couples dances that are rooted in traditional Jewish dancing and fused with modern songs and steps. Here’s an example.
I’ve been dancing since I was 14 years old, when I would go to the Israeli dancing club in a small windowless room at my high school during lunch. It was so fun that my friends suggested I start going to a weekly session in Rockville, MD, so I did! I danced with the Israeli dance troupe at my college, called Magniv, and even choreographed for them. After a few year break from dancing, I reconnected with the community last year in DC and have been going weekly ever since.
My first week in Israel was so chaotic, I didn’t get a chance to dance. But this week, I made sure to go. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s hard to describe to you what it feels like to dance to the songs of your people on the beach as you watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. There was such an energy that the fact that I was sweating every ounce of liquid out of me didn’t matter. I met some really nice people- it was so welcoming and people I literally just met were grabbing me to dance circles and couples dances with them. And what really struck me was how young everyone is. I’d say 50% of the dancers were under 35, something that will astonish my American friends who dance. It was so nice to hear many songs I knew- connecting my American Jewish life to my new Israeli life. We Jews really are an international club!
Beyond that, a few things stood out to me and moved me. One, dozens and dozens of people- tourists, Israelis, young, and old- gathered around us and just watched. Some would make their own goofy dance moves. Others took video clips. And most just simply watched and enjoyed. I’ve never felt so appreciated and validated in my life. Other than one very special instance where a Catalan TV crew filmed my Israeli dance session in Maryland (that video will come out in January- I’ll keep you posted), I’ve never felt like this very treasured activity or my Judaism in general was worthy of a spectacle. And I don’t use the word spectacle in a negative way- I mean that I felt highly appreciated. It made it even more special. In addition, it gave me great naches (pride) to see that the Municipality of Tel Aviv sponsors the dancing. Therefore, it is 100% free of cost. This is the benefit of being in a place where your passions, your traditions, and your culture are actively supported. Not tolerated, not enjoyed, not accepted (those are all good too though!)- but financially supported by the government. You’d be hard-pressed to find another place in the world where the government funds Israeli dancing.
For all the issues that surround the State of Israel, Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and what have you (and I’m not denying those issues exist), there’s one simple fact: this is a place where my faith and culture is valued in a way that nowhere else can truly replicate. I wish that for all peoples- it’s an incredible feeling that we all deserve.
I’d like to give a major shout-out to my Israeli dancing family in DC. Next time you find yourself in Israel, which I hope is soon, please please please let me take you dancing. It will be a memory you never forget.