In a country closely connected to its religious legacy such as Israel, Jewish-born Pagans constantly fear the perceived negative consequences of public exposure and intolerance both from Ultra-Orthodox Jews and from government, writes Shai Ferraro (Tel Aviv University) in an article analyzing the community-building discourse among Israeli Pagans from 2011-13 in the current issue of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions (May).
Until the late 1990s, there were only a handful of Pagans living in Israel. The spread of the Internet changed the situation, as it had a strong impact on the development of Paganism at large. There is currently a community of about 200 Pagans communicating with each other online and gathering from time to time, some on a monthly basis, and others at the annual communal festival in the fall. The current average age is around 31. There may be a few hundred more Israeli Pagans who are not connected with the existing community. Participants have noticed a growth since 2009. Most Pagans are eclectic; only a few are interested primarily in the revival of the local Canaanite beliefs.
Community-building has been slowed down by fears of violence from Jewish religious zelots who might be inclined to follow the Biblical verse “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” Moreover, the anti-witchcraft law—a relic from the British Mandate—is still in force in Israel, Ferraro remarks. Social networks, such as private Facebook groups, have made it possible to develop community activities more easily. Some Pagans intended to found an Israeli Pagan NGO, but finally opted to found an Israeli branch of the Pagan Federation International (PFI) in 2013, thus allowing them to launch an organization without having to deal with Israeli State authorities and to disclose the identities of several participants for legal paperwork.
Thus, Israeli Pagans have chosen to strengthen their identity by connecting with foreign Pagans and their achievements. However, there seems to be a long way to go to winning public recognition in Israel. Even in Israeli New Age circles, Pagans are not always welcome in contrast with their reception in the West. Therefore, they tend to develop a Pagan identity distinct from the wider New Age scene. In Israel, one Pagan woman observed to Ferraro, “one can be recognized as either religious, secular or spiritual”—meaning New Age, while often maintaining some form of Jewish praxis—but there is no room for being described as non-Jewish religious.
(International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Equinox Publishing, Office 415, The Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX, UK – http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/IJSNR)