In May, 2013, I took part in a seminar conference at Stanford University entitled “Old Time Religion: exploring the creativity of religious temporality.” I presented a paper on the field work I did among American neo-Hasidic ba’al teshuvahs (newly religious Jews) in Jerusalem and environs called “Renew our days of old: Neo-Hasidic Americans imagine past and future in Israel.” (For more on this field work, see my previous post.)
In this paper, I explore the cultural origins and spatial-temporal manipulations of American Neo-Hasidism in Israel. Among the practices I observed was the blending of “spirituality,” American counterculture, Hasidic theology and Orthodox Jewish practice. Students at these schools, like other ba’al teshuvahs, enact an all-encompassing narrative of return. In this narrative, the unfamiliar (Israel) becomes familiar and “real,” while the familiar (America) becomes strange and false. In my paper, I look at how this narrative is constructed and experienced, how time and place are reconfigured to facilitate this narrative, and how this mythic narrative of return relates to the actual social trajectory of students at these schools.