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A Zany Israeli Television Drama Explores the World of Hip, Mizraḥi Yeshiva Students

Jan. 29 2018

The Israeli television series Shababnikim follows three students of Mizraḥi (i.e., Middle Eastern or North African) origin at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. Shai Secunda writes in his review:

Shababnikim gets its name from the modern Hebrew slang term for yeshiva boys on the margins. The word’s etymology—from the Arabic shabab (“youth”) capped by the Yiddish suffix -nik—hints at the charged hybridity of Mizraḥi yeshiva students in Ashkenazi institutions, and the show mines this tension for dramatic effect. For example, despite his best efforts to adopt the dress and diction of Ashkenazi ḥaredi culture, [one of the students], Meir, is demeaned by yeshiva officials and matchmakers for his North African roots. When his hardscrabble Mizraḥi neighborhood welcomes him home as a rock star—drinking in his Torah lessons and eagerly accepting his fertility blessings—Meir is awakened to his own Sephardi sexiness. As one neighbor observes, he looks like a cross between Marlon Brando and the equally stylish former chief rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

To its credit, Shababnikim explores the fault lines between secular and ḥaredi [Israelis] with a successful combination of seriousness and silliness. Avinoam wants nothing more than to be part of broader, secular Israeli society. He buys his dark suits at Zara and takes pride in winning a football match—without realizing that though they may shop at Zara, secular Israelis dress casually and know nothing about American football. . . .

Contrary to popular conception, top ḥaredi institutions, like the Jerusalem-based Hebron yeshiva (“the Harvard of yeshivas,” as the show puts it), house stylish, relatively worldly yeshiva students who, alongside a steady diet of Lithuanian [talmudic erudition], enjoy short espressos, long secular novels, and Van Damme action movies. Perhaps most shocking to viewers are the scenes of our shababnikim casually studying late at night in their underwear, to the strains of Israeli soft rock and the sweet drag of a cigarette. . . . [T]heir remarkable comfort in their own skins and willingness to flirt with hedonism and heresy is a legacy of East European yeshiva life, . . . where some students imagined themselves philosopher princes who should dress smartly and not fret about excessive pieties.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Haredim, Israeli society, Mizrahi Jewry, Television, Yeshiva

 

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy