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Folklore of Israel

Traditional folk dance
Traditional folk dance

During the early years of Israel’s foundation, folk activities, such as dancing and singing together, represented a very important aspect of young settlers’ lives. These so-called Sabras (the young settlers were named after the prickly cactus fruit) would organize kumzitz meetings around a fire, during which nationalistic songs were sung and jokes were told. The central characteristic was the emphasis on the connection to the land.

With the arrival of immigrants from North Africa and the rest of the Middle East, the cultural expressions became much more diverse. For a long time the Ashkenazi (European) elite did not appreciate this ‘Arab’ culture, and Jews from Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq, and Yemen, for example, were forced to abandon their traditions, which were viewed as backward. In later years, this ‘Eastern’ culture (music and ceremonies) became more popular.

Another aspect brought to Israel by Jews from Arab countries was the colourful folklore surrounding weddings and other festivities. Jews from Yemen are known for their henna ceremonies, which were once seen as a rite of passage, but today are more often used to show one’s ethnic identity. During the ceremony the bride is decorated with henna drawings and both bride and groom wear ‘traditional’ wedding garb.

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