San­dals – the most Is­raeli of ob­jects

The most Is­raeli of ob­jects

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By TALIA LEVIN

‘What does be­ing Is­raeli mean to you?” we love to ask peo­ple. One of the most com­mon an­swers is: “chutz­pah.” But when asked what the most Is­raeli ob­ject is, peo­ple usu­ally need to stop and think for a mo­ment be­fore an­swer­ing. Many will sug­gest the kova tem­bel (the multi-pan­eled dome-shaped cloth hat Is­raelis wore in the early days of the state), tank-top un­der­shirts, khaki pants or bib­li­cal san­dals.

Ta­mar El Or, an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor at He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem, is the au­thor of the book San­dals – An Ethnog­ra­phy of Is­raeli Style, and the cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion that bears the same name that opened last month at the Eretz Is­rael Mu­seum in Tel Aviv. El Or has em­barked on a jour­ney to iden­tify which ob­ject is most iden­ti­fied with Is­rae­li­ness.

Why did you de­cide to re­search san­dals?

“I’m an an­thro­pol­o­gist, and I’ve spent a good part of my ca­reer re­search­ing haredi [ul­tra-Or­tho­dox] and re­li­gious women. At some point, though, I de­cided to change the fo­cus of my work and be­gin re­search­ing ob­jects and ma­te­rial cul­ture, which is less pop­u­lar among an­thro­pol­o­gists. Al­most no stud­ies have been done on ob­jects – this is more in line with re­search car­ried out by mu­se­ums – and so I be­gan brain­storm­ing about Is­raeli ob­jects that are clichés. That’s how I ended up pick­ing san­dals.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion dis­plays a wide range of san­dals made by kib­butzim and workshops in Tel Aviv; san­dals that were pro­duced and sewn in fac­to­ries in Ti­rat Carmel or He­bron. The aim of the re­searcher was to un­der­stand how the lo­cal style was cre­ated and why cer­tain styles re­mained pop­u­lar over the years. The bib­li­cal san­dal has be­come an in­te­gral part of Is­rae­li­ness and has had a pro­found in­flu­ence on life­style in the coun­try, as well as stylis­tic lan­guage (and the re­sis­tance to it) and con­ti­nu­ity.

“I re­searched san­dals for three years,” says El Or. “So of course I ended up read­ing a lot about the his­tory of the Is­raeli shoe in­dus­try. Is­rael was a young coun­try try­ing to de­velop its econ­omy and lots of peo­ple had come here from around the world. Is­rael was busy cre­at­ing a new lan­guage, new mu­sic and new cui­sine. If you ask a de­signer if they were in­flu­enced by a new Is­raeli stylis­tic lan­guage, they start to fid­get and pro­claim that their style is com­pletely in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic. But if you stop and look, you’ll see that there is guid­ing line of Is­raeli style, that the place has had a tremen­dous in­flu­ence. It’s very Is­raeli.”

The Eretz Is­rael Mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion takes vis­i­tors back 2,000 years in an at­tempt to un­der­stand why we call them bib­li­cal san­dals. Is this re­ally the type of footwear that was worn dur­ing the bib­li­cal pe­riod, or was this a more re­cent in­ven­tion?

“We’ve found clear ev­i­dence from art­work found all over Me­sopotamia as well as ac­tual san­dals that were un­cov­ered in tombs of Egyp­tian pharaohs,” El Or con­tin­ues, “that there were in­deed san­dals, but not this ex­act style. The san­dals that were most pop­u­lar in our area were be­tween-the-toes san­dals. So my ques­tion was, why did the two-strap san­dals be­come so pop­u­lar, and how did they come to be known as bib­li­cal san­dals?”

Over the years, san­dals be­came more widely ac­cepted, es­pe­cially among the Ro­mans, who’d been search­ing for stronger shoes that could grip sol­diers’ legs well. Later, straps that tied up the calves were added, which some sources say might have pro­vided pro­tec­tion from ar­rows.

“As san­dals be­gan be­ing worn over a larger ge­o­graph­i­cal area, we see that more and more had straps across the foot as op­posed to be­tween the toes. One ad­van­tage to these shoes was that they could be worn with socks,” ex­plains El Or. “These be­came pop­u­lar even in Cen­tral Europe, and Jewish shoe­mak­ers who made aliyah in the 1930s be­gan man­u­fac­tur­ing such san­dals in kib­butz fac­to­ries. In Ger­many, these san­dals are re­ferred to as Je­sus san­dals, since these are the type of san­dals peo­ple were be­lieved to have worn in the Holy Land dur­ing that era.

“One of the main fo­cuses of my ex­hi­bi­tion is Josef Rosen­bluth Artzi. He founded the shoe

com­pany Nim­rod, and was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign of the bib­li­cal Is­raeli san­dal. He is the per­son re­spon­si­ble for chang­ing the iden­tity of this san­dal. Now peo­ple be­gan as­so­ci­at­ing this style of shoe with Is­rael.”

Rosen­bluth Artzi was ex­tremely suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially among tourists, who be­gan buy­ing them up and tak­ing them back home with them overseas. “Tourists are al­ways search­ing for items that are very Is­raeli and Rosen­bluth Artzi pro­vided them with some­thing that was quintessen­tially Is­raeli. Be­tween the 1967 and 1973 wars, Is­raeli style be­gan to crys­tal­lize in a num­ber of ways. We can see how the jux­ta­po­si­tion of Jewish his­tory in the Di­as­pora, and Jewish roots in the Holy Land, led to the cre­ation of some­thing so in­cred­i­bly iden­ti­fi­able as Is­raeli.”

At the ex­hi­bi­tion, vis­i­tors will find clas­sic ex­hibits such as pic­tures and video clips along­side new dis­plays of the first Teva Naot fac­to­ries and the first shoe­maker shop that op­er­ated on Kib­butz Ayelet Hasha­har, which now of­fers san­dal-mak­ing workshops open to the pub­lic run by the orig­i­nal owner’s grand­son. There’s even a minia­ture re­con­struc­tion of the shoe­maker’s shop in the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“I’ve also in­cluded new san­dals in the ex­hi­bi­tion to show how this same style con­tin­ues to re­main pop­u­lar de­spite the new and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies that are cur­rently avail­able,” adds El Or. “This is ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant when you’re deal­ing with lo­cal style. If the style is strong enough, then even when new shoe-mak­ing meth­ods are in­tro­duced, the gen­eral style re­mains con­stant. For ex­am­ple, when Shoresh (Source) san­dals be­came trendy, you’ll see that the most pop­u­lar style is two straps across, the ex­act same shape as bib­li­cal san­dals.”


AN AD­VER­TISE­MENT from the Nim­rod Shoes Ar­chives urges po­ten­tial cus­tomers to ‘save trou­ble and time, and buy by mail from the huge se­lec­tion in Nim­rod’s new cat­a­logue.’

(Kib­butz Neot Mordechai Ar­chives)

KIB­BUTZ NEOT MORDECHAI’S shoe fac­tory in the 1950s.

(Yaki Halperin)

YOUNG WOMEN show off their fancy footwear in the 1960s.

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