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We Once Had Better Hats כובעים טובים יותר

January 29, 2016

 

פעם אחת לא כל כך מזמן כשיהודים הגיעו לארץ, הם לבשו בבגדי מסורתי, לצערי היום כבר לא

 

 

When Jews from the גלות (the diaspora) immigrated to this land, from Tunisia, from Yemen, from the Caucasus, from Eastern and Western Europe, from Greece, from Ethiopia and from every country on the planet, they came dressed in what is erroneously but commonly called "traditional dress".

 

The style and appearance of their dress were almost identical to the clothing worn by non-Jews in the countries where they had lived.  Small, subtle differences were present but often undetectable by an outsider. Jewelry usually included religious signs and symbols and the patterns woven into the fabric were different and distinctly Jewish.  And of course items like טלית tallit (prayer shawls) marked them as Jews. 

 

Unfortunately for many of the Jews from the shtetls of the Pale (Poland, Russia, Ukraine…) in Eastern Europe, the clothing bespoke poverty and extreme hardship and save for the ציצית (tzi-tzit) they looked much the same as other peasants.  Not at all a glamorous look and certainly not the stuff of dreams.

 

Everyday wear of Jews from North Africa and the sub-Sahara was often more elaborate (and "Eastern" - read Oriental) than western dress and as  very much reflected the west's romanticized vision of Arabia - the stuff of fantasy and the basis of more than one costume design. From Star Wars to the Runway, the look, the exotic is celebrated.

 

Today, “traditional” dress is rarely worn, except at weddings and some significant life events. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original immigrants have adopted the clothing of their new nation. And as the nation has grown and become more westernized, so has the clothing.

 

 - save for the חסידים and the חרדי. Followers of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the חסידים who branched into multiple traditions over the years, and the חרדי (strict adherents to religious law) wear white or black, depending on the occasion and on the particular sect to which one belongs.

 

These styles of clothing – for the men - harken back to the 18th century, and were adopted from the Eastern European noble class. They reflect a desire to express the specialness and joy of celebrating God by wearing special and distinct clothing. 

 

Which at last brings me to the point. Jews in Israel don't wear cool "authentic" clothing anymore. We do not command interest or empathy because our dress is either too western or it is too much the stuff of anti-Semitic caricatures. מזרחי (Mizrahi /Eastern) dress is considered cool but for the wrong reason. It should be valued for its beauty, for its intricacy, for its ability to delight the eye and its connection to the past and not because it signifies authenticity in the sense of entitlement.  

 

The aesthetic of national dress is intersecting with the legitimacy of nationhood. In other words, if one looks the part – one belongs there. Modern Israelis don’t look Middle Eastern enough for the West. And the חסידים and the חרדי well….

 

I am beginning to believe that the tide of students dressing in keffiyehs on American and British campuses only represents a very desperate desire to be accepted and to reject their parents politics.

 

 

It is fun to dress up and go to a conference as Guy Fawkes and give the Man the finger.  It is fun to wear robes and pretend to be on the dark side or switch this afternoon to the Jedi. It is fun to utter strange words and take on a role as a defender of (name a popular cause), and it is all done with comic book emotions.  The sentiments are so shallow - and so dangerous.

 

Stranger in A Strange Land  has now come to pass. 

 

I have a keffiye. I bought it in Paris 30 years ago. It has a beautiful pattern and it wasn’t made in China. I do not wear it anymore. Not because it is a symbol of an oppressed people but because it has been coopted as a symbol of non-oppressed people feeling guilty about not being oppressed. 

 

So if the Jews in Israel had better outfits, something that catches the imagination of college students we would fair better in the media.  But alas, we are what we are and I hope we stay that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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