The Israeli society is comprised of diverse cultures, religions and ethnic groups. The ultra-orthodox Jewish community possesses its own ideology and way of life that sets it apart from other surrounding cultures. This is reflected, for example, in the dress code that distinguishes its members from other groups. Another example is the perception that leisure is a waste of precious time. Members of the ultra-orthodox community spend most of their time in religious studies. The unique lifestyle of this community causes one of the biggest rifts between religious and secular communities in Israel.
My essay encompasses a six month documentary dedicated to an unusual man who lives in the heart of the Jewish orthodox community. Meir, 34 years old, is married to Nava (formerly Melanie) and father of six. Meir was born and raised as a secular child. The sea and breaking waves fascinated him at an early age. He started surfing at the age of 12 and at the age of 21, he went on a surfing trip around the world. In the Philippines, he met Melanie. It was love at first sight. When he was 22, and she turned 18, they got married. Upon their return to Israel, and after a slow process of several months, Meir started turning to Judaism. “Force majeure” is how he sees his return to religious faith. His wife Nava has chosen to follow the path in his footsteps as well.
Meir and Nava raise their children in Jerusalem. Meir maintains his passion for surfing along with his routine religious studies and family life. Whenever possible, he drives to his hometown, changes from his heavy black clothes into a wetsuit and surfs. Meir says, “Ever since I became ‘Baal Teshuva’ (newly religious), my surfing has greatly improved. It has become better than ever. Surfing in the open sea sharpens my thoughts, calms me down and improves my coordination.” He is an uncommon creature both in his religious study group and with his surfing mates. Nevertheless, both groups accept him with love.
For more details or questions about Gai’s documentary, shoot him an email at: GaiShtienberg@yahoo.com.