'I Studied Christianity and Buddhism. They Have No Basis or Reality'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: This couple sees dance as a way to come closer to God ■ Why these two young Israeli women packed noodles for their trip to Thailand

Oren and Adva Tishler.
Tomer Appelbaum

Oren Tishler, 41, and Adva Tishler, 30, from Carmiel; arriving from Amsterdam

Hello, can I ask, why Amsterdam?

Oren: It was my wifes first time in Amsterdam – Ive been lots of times, I lived there for a year. Its a pleasure there, quiet, not too cold.

What did you do in Amsterdam for a year?

Oren: Im a dancer and dance teacher. I taught in Amsterdam. Since then, Ive returned to Israel and become religiously observant.

How did you start to dance?

When I was 13, in Carmiel, my mother sent me to learn folk dancing. Already then I decided that it would be my life profession. After the army I entered the Gaaton workshop, from there I joined the kibbutz movements dance company, under Ido Tadmor. I was a member of the Vertigo troupe for six years and founded the young ensemble for them, and then I went to Amsterdam.

And you became religious there?

When I returned to Israel, six years ago. An amazing study was done at the Hebrew University, about dancers and athletes, as well as people who dont move a lot. They discovered that they have different genes. Athletes have one different gene, dancers have two different genes, one related to sports and the other to spirituality and communication. A dancer is from the outset more open to searching. I studied Christianity and Buddhism. There is truth in those religions, but its only external. I found that they have no basis or reality.

So how did you get to observant Judaism?

It started with a friend from Batsheva [a leading Israeli troupe] who became religious. I came to recruit him for the dance troupe I had at the time, and he said, But when we meet, well also study Torah. I agreed, because I wanted to close the deal and also so that we would have good working relations. We started by learning Mesilat Yesharim by the Ramhal [The Path of the Just, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, from 1740], and it really got to me. And over time, the Torah and works by Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. And then I became a Chabadnik.

Meaning that you believe in the Rebbe.

The Rebbe is alive and well and he is the messiah. I study Chabad doctrine and I live according to the teachings of Chabad. Half a year after I became religious I stopped dancing, and it was actually the Rebbe who told me to go back to dancing. He said that a person who does something, becomes pious should not lose [touch with] reality.

How do you integrate religion and dance?

Oren: I have a YouTube channel, where you can see a dance video from a solo performance that I did at the Acre Festival called Identity, in which I speak and dance on the theme of penitence.

Adva: When I saw the video, I decided Id marry him. I became observant 10 years ago, and I search for the connection between Judaism and dance. I met Oren, and at that meeting, or the one afterward, we decided to get married. We saw that we could undergo the process together. We are trying to connect people to themselves through dance, creating a unity by dancing together.

Still, how does religious Judaism come into the picture? Even the mind-body connection is not the most organic to Judaism.

Oren: From what weve learned, that connection is the highest, the most natural – before the shrine of movement, there is only song and melody.

There arent many ultra-Orthodox groups that dance.

Adva: There are two groups of religious women who dance in the presence of men, and Ronen Itzhakis troupe [of male dancers].

Oren: Until I became religious it was a mission to draw people close to their bodies. Now it is a double mission to draw them to religion and to music. In Chabad, there is the matter of a divine soul and the animal-like psyche; every Jew has a connection to the spiritual as well as an attraction to the earthly. And its precisely when you are dancing that you become aware of the body, the body as an instrument for what we want to say, and dance opens up the connection to the body.

Adva: Dancers also have ego. You need to be connected to the fact that its not us, its the Holy One, its not our doing.

Tamar Ben Shalom and Shahar Blau.
Tomer Appelbaum

Tamar Ben Shalom, 22, from Kibbutz Ein Hanetziv, left, and Shahar Blau, 22, from Kibbutz Sde Eliahu; flying to Thailand

Hello, can I ask where youll be in the East?

Shahar: Were going to Thailand and Cambodia, and Im going on to India afterward. There were supposed to be three of us, but it turned out that the other friend had to fly alone to Istanbul. We tried to rearrange things and delay the trip, but it didnt work out.

Tamar: Her name is Shlomzion, and now shell see that were being interviewed and shell be angry with us!

Shahar: Oof, I miss Shlomzion. In short, flights should be ordered through an agent in Israel.

Where do you know each other from?

Shahar: Were all from religious homes. We grew up on different kibbutzim and went to school together, and weve been friends since. In high school we met every day or slept over at each others place.

Now youve just been discharged from your army service?

Tamar: I was discharged a year ago, and since then Ive worked a little on the kibbutz – stables, education, childrens house. Priority work [for newly discharged soldiers].

Shahar: I just finished my service a month ago.

You were in the career army?

Shahar: Yes, I was the squad commander of new recruits in transportation.

Tamar: I was in the Gadna [Youth Corps]. I commanded a group of 11th-graders who were going to be drafted, and guys from abroad who do a week of simulated basic training. You have to explain the jobs to them, tell them about the army and raise morale.

What will you do now?

I took the psychometric exam [for university admission], and Ill get the results in Thailand.

Shahar: I dont know yet, but Ill try to do good. Its great that everything is suddenly open, but theres emptiness, too, because the army fills you up. Now is the time to travel and get filled up with something else.

How will you manage with religious observance on the trip?

Shahar: We brought UHT milk and pasta, and on Shabbat well play a lot of cards.

Tamar: We also brought dresses for Shabbat, mashed potatoes and noodles.

Shahar: Instead of eating pad thai, were bringing noodles to Thailand! Can you believe that? But its all good.

Tamar: Itll be complicated, because each of us has a different approach to religion.

Shahar: Im less religious than they are, Tamar is in the middle, and Shlomzion is the dosa [slang for Orthodox] of the group. But we need to balance things and to be considerate and accept one another, or sometimes be able to split up – if we want to go to a party, for example.

What about guys?

Shahar: Theres that, and its also fun to meet new people. But I know that I have limits that will help me figure out whats appropriate for me.

Tamar: I have a boyfriend at home.

Shahar: And we hope that Shlomzion will find a groom already on the flight!

Tamar: Shes without us now, and we hope that she will take advantage of the time.

Shahar: Were not just looking for whatever thrills we can find, and that sets limits and safeguards you.

You sound very sure of yourselves.

Tamar: We have committees, like on kibbutz; I understand bureaucracy and apps, for example.

Shahar: Im the foreign liaison committee, I know how to get things, to communicate with people. And Shlomzion is a person who is all goodness – she will draw the good to us.

Tamar: Its clear that everyone has her problems, but each of us wants to do the best she can for the others.

Tell me a little about the problems.

Shahar: Shlomzion has a fear of heights, and Im afraid of turtles.

The cute things with their house on their back?

Shahar: Their bodies disgust me, and if I see one I run away and cry. If I encounter a turtle in Thailand, its good that Ill be with the girls, they understand me.

Tamar: For me its really hard if something has been arranged and then its canceled, and the two of them know it.

Shahar: This is also the first time well be away from our families for a long period. Ive devoted a lot of time to other people, and now I have to try to focus on myself. Im not sure I know how.