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Dancing with the Stars, and Hasids!

Dancing with the Stars, and Hasids!

If you were reading the Sunday Times this weekend, you saw the big Israel story about Stuxnet. But there was another story, tucked deep in the Arts & Leisure section, that you may have missed.

It was about a modern dance troupe made up of five Orthodox men. Calling themselves Ka’et ("timely" in Hebrew), the group is being trained by a prominent secular Tel Aviv choreographer, Ronen Izhaki, and booking up some of Israel’s hippest dance venues.

Why’s this so interesting? For one thing, it goes a long way in bridging the gap between religious and secular Jews. The two groups have been increasingly at odds over the direction of Israel is taking, and it’s refreshing to see liberal and Orthodox Jews unite. You may write it off as it being just about dance, not diplomacy (it’s plies they’re talking about, not peace!). But cultural comity at least provides a line of communication that political differences so often threaten.

And let’s forget about politics for a minute. Let’s talk about dance. There is no question that Israel’s premier dance company, Batsheva, has put the country on the dance-world map. Under the guidance of Ohad Naharin, a distinct choreographic style has emergered that even has an impact on some of New York’s rising dance stars. (For just one example, see my interview with Andrea Miller from last week.)

Infusing Jewish dance with genuine religious ideas is perhaps the most exciting part. Ka’et is essentially doing this, having the Orthodox dancers transmute their religious trances into a formal dance language.

The sad fact is that no matter how many times secular Jewish dancers have tried to imbue their work with a genuine "Jewish" language, it’s usually come off as second-hand. If a meaning secular Jewish is to survive, it must be imbued with a genuine engagement with the religious tradition. It’s what makes so much of secular Jewish culture so rich, from the writings of Cynthia Ozick to the jazz of John Zorn.

We can debate whether it matters that the artist be a practicing Jew or not; I’d argue a serious engagement with the religious tradition is what matters most. But that Ka’et is comprised of religious Jews, well, all the more power to them. Yasher koach!

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