AFP Covers Aharit HaYamim
The AFP infiltrates Aharit HaYamim's festival. Not as nasty coverage as I would expect. Good even...
West Bank: Torah, reggae and marijuana at Jewish 'Woodstock'
by Michael Blum Wed Jul 4, 6:02 PM ET
BAT AYIN SETTLEMENT, West Bank (AFP) - A group rocks to reggae in front of a large star of David while a Jewish rabbi urges a return to the faith amid a cloud of smoke: welcome to a religious Woodstock on the West Bank.
At least 1,000 people, from Orthodox youths wearing kippas to hippies sporting multi-coloured ponchos, gathered on a summer night for the 8th edition of the "Festival of the End of Time." The setting is a pine forest in the Gush Etzion bloc of Jewish settlements.
"This festival gives me spiritual power," gushes Elisheva, a 16-year-old girl from Jerusalem. "There are sparks of holiness in the air." Close to her, teenagers smoking nargilas sit on carpets, swaying to the music.
A curtain is supposed to separate females and males during dancing but in the darkness the religious interdicts are quickly forgotten and everyone mixes freely.
The festival is billed as a "unique spiritual gathering." It aims to be a meeting place for radical settlers in illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank and non-religious Jews, many recently returned from spiritual journeys to India after their military service.
"Thank God all day long," chants singer Yehuda Leuchter, whose family created the festival of Jewish music in memory of their father, an American-born musician who died in 1994.
But the rabbis too have their say.
Michi Yossefi, the guru of young settlers, seizes the microphone and begins to preach the need to respect Jewish religious values to the assembled youths, who drink in his words.
He is not put off by the earrings worn by the males and the short skirts of the females -- his aim is to win back the lost sheep to the faith.
On sale at the stands erected in the forest are Indian fabrics, jewellery and CDs of the latest bands. Nearby, a couple bake bread in a rudimentary oven and offer salads and cheese to festival-goers at a modest price.
"Our message is that unity between the various strands of the Jewish people can hasten our redemption," says 25-year-old Raphael Barkatz, a Parisian saxophonist.
Moshe Karo, a 57-year-old immigrant from the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, takes the stage to sing a little known song by French artist Serge Gainsbourg, "Sand and the soldiers," the rights of which were offered to Israel in 1967.
"Yes, I will defend the sand of Israel, the soil of Israel, the children of Israel, even if it means dying for the sand of Israel," he sings in French before translating into Hebrew. "The music is a form of prayer to God," says the singer.
As the night wears on, and the families and the few adults leave, the smell of marijuana fills the air.
For Yocheved, 25, who arrived with a group of friends from Jerusalem, the evening is an occasion to relax and meet new people.
"There is a friendly atmosphere, the music is good, there is happiness," she says before taking up a tambourine which she beats in time to the musicians on the stage.
The dawn begins to break. The musicians arrange their instruments and start the morning prayers while the faraway hills glow with the rising of the sun.
OK, well I don't know about the Guru Yosefi part, but kol hakavod Michael Blum for disappointing your editor, who was probably hoping for something with a bit more blood of Christian children in it.