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Renew our days of old: Neo-Hasidic Americans imagine past and future in Israel, May 2013

Nachlaot Alef MuralIn 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.

“American Neo-Hasids in the Land of Israel,” in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 13:4 (2010)


In 2010, I published an article entitled “American Neo-Hasids in the Land of Israel” in the journal Nova Religio summarizing the research I did among Neo-Hasidic Americans in Israel. I conducted field work at two yeshivot, one in Jerusalem and another in a settlement outside the city, from 2004 to 2006. This research was done for my master’s degree thesis in Cultural Studies at Hebrew University, which I received in 2007.

This article relates to themes of new religious movements, the relationship of American Jews to Israel — both to the state of Israel and to Israel as a religious concept (as referenced in the title of the piece) — and to Zionism as a religious and political ideology. It also relates to the unexpected ramifications of American forms of countercultural spirituality. Particular areas of focus in this article are new expressions of Hasidic spirituality (often referred to as Neo-Hasidism by scholars) and the political complexities and contradictions of these communities.