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Embodying Hebrew Culture

Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine

Nina S. Spiegel

Publication Year: 2013

From their conquest of Palestine in 1917 during World War I, until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the British controlled the territory by mandate, representing a distinct cultural period in Middle Eastern history. In Embodying Hebrew Culture: Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine, author Nina S. Spiegel argues that the Jewish community of this era created enduring social, political, religious, and cultural forms through public events, such as festivals, performances, and celebrations. She finds that the physical character of this national public culture represents one of the key innovations of Zionism-embedding the importance of the corporeal into national Jewish life-and remains a significant feature of contemporary Israeli culture. Spiegel analyzes four significant events in this period that have either been unexplored or underexplored: the beauty competitions for Queen Esther in conjunction with the Purim carnivals in Tel Aviv from 1926 to 1929, the first Maccabiah Games or "Jewish Olympics" in Tel Aviv in 1932, the National Dance Competition for theatrical dance in Tel Aviv in 1937, and the Dalia Folk Dance Festivals at Kibbutz Dalia in 1944 and 1947. Drawing on a vast assortment of archives throughout Israel, Spiegel uses an array of untapped primary sources, from written documents to visual and oral materials, including films, photographs, posters, and interviews. Methodologically, Spiegel offers an original approach, integrating the fields of Israel studies, modern Jewish history, cultural history, gender studies, performance studies, dance theory and history, and sports studies. In this detailed, multi-disciplinary volume, Spiegel demonstrates the ways that political and social issues can influence a new society and provides a dynamic framework for interpreting present-day Israeli culture. Students and teachers of Israel studies, performance studies, and Jewish cultural history will appreciate Embodying Hebrew Culture.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. vii-10

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pp. ix-14

I have researched and developed this book over many years and a variety of locations The seeds of this project were planted while I was an undergraduate at Brown University. I owe a great debt to Calvin Goldscheider, who first encouraged me to embark on this path and has remained a trusted adviser ever since. He recommended that I pursue graduate studies on this topic and has steadfastly supported my work ...

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Introduction: Embodying Hebrew Culture

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pp. 1-20

When soon to be prime minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the Jewish community there spontaneously flocked to the streets en masse and celebrated by dancing the hora, a fast-paced communal circle dance that had become a quintessential marker of a new Jewish society. This image, in photographs and film footage, became an iconic symbol of ...

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1 Searching for Hebrew Beauty: The Queen Esther Competitions, 1926–1929

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pp. 21-56

About one month before the Purim holiday, in the years 1926 through 1929, a beauty competition took place at an evening gala in Tel Aviv. This contest was a key element of the Zionist transformation of Purim, a minor and joyous festival in the traditional Jewish calendar. The winner of the competition was crowned Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. Yet the creators of the beauty contest also changed the ...

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2 Promoting Sport: The First Maccabiah Games, 1932

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pp. 57-96

The first Maccabiah Games, a nine-day sports festival in Tel Aviv held from March 29 to April 6, 1932, was a Jewish Olympics. Directly influenced by European culture, the games were modeled after the modern Olympics first staged in Athens in 1896. They included the usual diversity of Olympic sports competitions for men and women, such as track and field, gymnastics, hockey, soccer, basketball, tennis, rugby, ...

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3 Producing Theatrical Dance: The National Dance Competition, 1937

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pp. 97-132

On Wednesday evening, October 20, 1937, a large audience gathered to attend the National Dance Competition at Mugrabi Hall, a well-known theater and cinema in the heart of Tel Aviv (Figure 25).1 Gathered backstage stood many of the leading professional dancers of the day; some were prominent, and others were unknown to the Tel Aviv audience on the evening of the event. The program aspired “to discover ...

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4 Creating National Folk Dance: The Dalia Dance Festivals, 1944 and 1947

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pp. 133-174

In the summer of 1944 a national folk dance festival took place at Kibbutz Dalia, located in the Jezreel Valley (Figure 37).1 Dancers and onlookers arrived from all over the Yishuv to participate in the celebration and to share in what would prove to be a defining moment in the creation of Israeli folk dance. By nationalizing and institutionalizing the Israeli folk dance movement, the festival was a watershed ...

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Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy

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pp. 175-186

Building an embodied Hebrew national public culture was one of the primary goals of the Yishuv. The secular majority believed that developing a Hebrew and corporeal way of life was an essential prerequisite for establishing a modern nation. All the events in this book were formative in creating a new Jew, with a new Jewish body, Because the emphasis on the corporeal became prevalent, investigating the ...


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pp. 187-222


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pp. 245-257


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p. 274-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336373
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814336366

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 47
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a