Shall we dance? Rabbi-approved salsa

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Shall we dance? Rabbi-approved salsa

Ballroom dancing trend taking hold among many religious couples. Teachers dress modestly, classes are given individually, and during Niddah partners join classes with members of their own sex

One tango show knocked Nir Eliyahu’s life off its course. About a decade ago, Eliyahu, a young religious man from Jerusalem, ended his role as a deputy company commander in the Duvdevan elite special forces unit. He went on vacation in South America and planned to start a company commanders’ course upon his return.

“In Buenos Aires I saw a tango performance, and that’s where my mouth opened and failed to close – it was amazing, and I decided that I wanted to bring that into my life,” he says.

Dance Floor
 
Hit among religious women: Women-only dancing sessions held once a month; women groove to hip hop
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Upon his return toIsrael, Eliyahu decided to give up on his military career and registered for the Eli Mizrahi Ballroom Dance School. Mizrahi took notice of the young religious man’s talent and enthusiasm, and suggested that he specialize in the field.

At the same time, Eliyahu received a job offer at the Defense Ministry but shoes the first option, surprising his acquaintances.

“Even today, when I tell people what I do for a living, they usually raise an eyebrow in wonder – how can a religious guy be a dancing teacher?” he says.

‘I find a religious aspect in dancing.’ Nir and Meital Eliyahu (Photo: Leon Sokoletski)

Since then, Eliyahu and his wife Meital have become the owners of the Jerusalem branch of the Eli Mizrahi Ballroom Dance Schools, and he is one of the only teachers in Israel who can get members of the conservative faction of his sector to dance.

“More and more religious couples are coming here, because they want to spend time together,” he says. According to Eliyahu, about 40% of the couples dancing in the studio are religious, and the teachers adapt to the restrictions of Halacha.

In order to create a modest environment, the teachers in the studio adhere to a strict dress code: The men wear suits and ties and the teachers avoid wearing vests.

“Dancing can be linked with immorality, and it’s important for us that the studio is respectable, and perhaps that’s the reason why religious people feel comfortable in it. In addition, due to the ritual purification laws, on weeks when couples can’t dance together they arrive separately for men-only or women-only classes.”

Anything below chest doesn’t exist

One of the religious couples dancing at the studio are Hagai and his wife, who prefer not to reveal their full names. They have been married for 11 years and have four children, but only recently took the courage and decided to try out dances for couples.

The desire to dance was his, and he did not immediately succeed in convincing his wife to join him.

On weeks when couples cannot dance together, they arrive separately for men-only or women-only classes (Photo: Leon Sokoletski)

“As a religious guy I was very embarrassed, but because I have been in the acting field for years, and my body is an instrument for me – it was easier for me than for my wife,” he says.

“Ballroom dancing is not something innocent, it’s dealing with one’s body, and I just informed my wife that we were going – because if not with her, who would I dance with?”

Hagai, 39, first became familiar with the world of dancing as part of acting classes at a religious theater called Aspaklaria.

“I learned dancing only with boys, and it was a bit ridiculous,” he says. “The religious society has an unresolved issue with the body. Even when I studied acting, the secular teachers used to tell us that we’re like news anchors: Everything below the chest doesn’t exist for us.”

Hagai and his wife don’t dance with other couples, but only with each other. “There are parties in the studio in which many couples dance together. It’s not suitable for us,” says Hagai.

Another obstacle faced by religious couples who dance every week is the days of Niddah, when a woman goes through menstruation. “We have days when we are forbidden, and it’s very embarrassing explaining it. But because the teacher is religious, he doesn’t ask unnecessary questions.”

According to Hagai, despite the limitations imposed by religion, he insisted on learning ballroom dancing because of the work accompanying it. “In ballroom dancing there is an issue of listening and accuracy. The work in the studio is basically on a relationship. It’s an opportunity in daily life to look each other in the eyes.”

Rabbi shows enthusiasm

Liat and Roee, who became religious together and define themselves as haredim, dance in the Nir Eliyahu studio as well. According to Liat, they have both always loved to dance, but since drawing closer to religion the number of opportunities has decreased.

When they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, Liat looked for a unique way to mark the occasion. They arrived at Nir and Meital’s studio after a long search.

“I called a lot of places in Jerusalem and inquired whether there was a possibility to come in for a personal course, because we can’t dance with other men and women. When Meital answered the phone, she immediately understood what I was looking for,” says Liat.

Since then, Liat and Roee have been taking classes with a private teacher, in order to avoid a situation in which Liat dances in front of a man who is not her husband. She says that the fact the teacher also avoided dancing and dressed modestly made the couple feel comfortable. Although they didn’t take part in the parties held in the studio, the training at home was as fun, they say.

“When we practiced the children would watch us, and then I would grab one child and Roee would grab another child, and we would all dance together.”

Despite the great enjoyment the two experience and despite being strict about Halacha rules, Liat and Roee prefer to remain anonymous. In the haredi society, Liat says, ballroom dancing is completely off limits. She clarifies, however, that they have received the rabbi’s approval.

“We once went to our rabbi’s lesson after a dancing class. When I told him where we had come from, he was really enthusiastic about it.”

Liat notes that during classed they mostly enjoy the fact that they are spending time together actively. “The dancing is like couples therapy,” she says. “For example, you must understand that the man leads the dance, and it took me time to let go and let him lead. The teacher has been working with us on it a lot.”

Man is frame, woman is picture

Eliyahu understands what Liat is talking about very well. “As opposed to other dancing styles, here if you’re not attentive to your partner – it’s worthless,” he says.

“In order to dance together, the couple must learn to listen or lead. These are concepts you meet in any type of relationship in life – even between employee and employer.”

“We have slightly lost femininity and masculinity,” adds Meital. “If I look at women today, they are very independent and leading and have an opinion. In dancing the man is the frame and the woman is the picture. In our studio, the woman learns to be a woman.”

Nir and Meital owe their relationship to dancing too. “Dancing created contact between us,” says Meital. “We were both looking for someone religious but open to the world of dancing, who would agree to mixed dancing. That’s why the connection between us was so right.”

Meital, who studied for a first degree in dancing, criticizes the perception of the body in the sector she belongs to. “The religious society drives girls away from their body,” she says. “Nir and I are religious, but the thought that leads us in life is that there must be a connection between body and soul.”

“The connection to the body and regaining control of it are a very big gift,” Nir adds. “The dance floor simulates life. Many come to us when they realize that they have a problem finding a partner.

“In our generation the man is in a very complicated situation. He has to be tough, but also sensitive, and in addition the woman wants to face someone she can lean on. Through tango, for example, I help many men connect to their charisma, because you can’t dance tango softly.”

Nir says that 10 years after choosing to devote himself to dancing, he has no regrets. “There were many people who raised an eyebrow over the path I took, but today I laugh at all of them.

“We have our own business, in which we also dance and also help people go through internal processes. I don’t know if an accountant, who deals with money all day, is more religious than me. For me, dancing has a religious aspect because it contains tolerance and attentiveness and an ability to help others.”

2013 boom year for Israeli high-tech

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Stephen Darori on the Best of 2013

2013 boom year for Israeli high-tech

In the first half of the year, there was a 52% rise in demand for mobile and web developers, and salaries are up as well.

2013 was a positive year for Israeli high-tech and biotech, in almost every respect: total investments rose, salaries rose, and there were some impressive exits. According to human resources and research companyEthosia, the mobile sector is still guiding the industry, and despite some worrisome signs, there is still room for much optimism.

According to the data, in the first half of the year, there was a 52% rise in demand for mobile and web developers. This trend continued for most of the year. Start-ups founded this year succeeded in raising over $380 million, with Internet companies accounting for 25% of the funds raised. “Web and mobile companies have surpassed the fundraising levels of communications and semiconductor companies…

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The 10 Best Business Decisions of 2013

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The 10 Best Business Decisions of 2013

 
 

 

 
Angela Ahrendts
Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, seen here in London in September 2011, in one of the 10 best business decisions in 2013.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

’Tis the season for listicles, and most firms can’t get by with Santa’s timeless business strategy of low-cost, highly scalable elf labor. Instead, enduring success relies on the occasional bold, innovative, or even lucky move—a smart call that positions a company to grow, ideally by better serving its customers’ needs rather than just exploiting them. In no particular order, here are Moneybox’s favorite business moves of 2013.

Matthew YglesiasMATTHEW YGLESIAS

Matthew Yglesias is Slate‘s business and economics correspondent. He is the author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

J.C. Penney brings back sales. It’s questionable whether this or anything else will save the ailing midmarket department store, or indeed the very concept of the midmarket department store. But it’s clear that the company’seffort to reinvent itself under former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson as a slick, Wi-Fi-enabled, no-discounts shopping experience was a catastrophic flop. This year they brought back an old CEO, brought back discounts, and even though they’re still struggling, sales trends are in the right direction.

Apple hires Angela Ahrendts. The Ron Johnson Catastrophe at J.C. Penney also managed to leave Apple’s retail operation adrift and listless. Tim Cook brought in John Browett, CEO of British mass-market superstore Tesco, who promptly alienated loyalists with a misguided cost-cutting drive before getting fired. Ahrendts, CEO of the far more upmarket British company Burberry, is a much better choice.* Apple’s retail stores are already insanely successful. They don’t need a retail chief who can squeeze extra dollars out of them; they need one who can build a lot more—especially in Asia—where Burberry has opened many more shops than Apple without compromising the brand’s value. Adding a woman to the executive team can’t hurt, either.

Yahoo buys Tumblr. The success of Yahoo shares under Marissa Mayer’s leadership is mostly a question of financial engineering—the company has restructured its Asian holdings and done share buybacks—which is really what Dan Loeb, the activist investor who put her in charge, was interested in. But Mayer’s had the strength and vision to sell the board on a strategy that isn’t just financial engineering, and throwing $1.1 billion in cash into buying Tumblr—rather than handing it to shareholders—is key to that deal. Tumblr brought tangible assets in terms of audience and social presence to the table, but it also served as a crucial signal to current and possibly future Yahoo employees that the company is serious about investing in its own long-term future. It might not work, but making the visionary play is an appealing contrast to an American corporate culture that tends to excessively focus on quarterly fluctuations in share prices.

Google makes dirt-cheap hardware. Google’s Chromecast television add-onisn’t revolutionary technology, but the $35 price point is beyond aggressive.Chromebook laptops starting at $199 aren’t quite as cheap but are in some ways even more aggressive. The culture of pursuing aggressive growth for the long term at the expense of short-term profits is common in Google’s online-services homeland, but it’s bracing to see Mountain View bringing the same spirit to consumer hardware. In a world where the global average income is still just $10,000 a year and all the population growth is happening in poorer places, making things cheaper still counts for a lot.

Starbucks hires veterans. The coffee giant has a perennial need for reliable people to do not especially glamorous work, and the Defense Department faces a constant challenge in finding gainful civilian employment for discharged veterans. Forging a partnership between the Pentagon and Starbucks is a natural solution to a concrete labor market issue. It’s also great brand extension. Starbucks is associated with a certain kind of upscale, effete lifestyle, but it’s already become ubiquitous in those markets and faces pressure for even more upscale joints with pour-over coffee and more complex flavors. A partnership with the military is a great way to give the company more of an all-American image and convince a broader swath of the population that they want to make room in their budget for pricey takeout coffee.

Uber offers affordable car loans. Though it continues to face regulatory roadblocks in many cities, at this point the biggest barrier to the growth of Uber’s ride-hiring service is on the supply side: You can’t sell a ride unless you’ve got a driver. With the national labor market still weak and Uber’s per-vehicle revenue high, demand for driving jobs is also high. But you still need a car to drive. By reaching a bit outside its core competences of software and customer service and partnering with Toyota and General Motors to get discount car loans for Uber drivers, Uber has taken a big step to solving the bottleneck. The car-loan program should also start turning Uber into a jobs machine, both on city streets and in the factories where the cars are built.   

Beyoncé drops a secret album. The Internet has basically crushed the music industry’s traditional revenue model. Beyoncé’s unorthodox decision to release an iTunes exclusive album in the dead of night with no promotion was a brilliant (if hard to replicate) countermove by a superstar. In a social media world, free publicity is the best kind of publicity, and the combination of surprise and artificial scarcity was a great way to get people to actually open their wallets for content.

Netflix gets into content. It’s easy to forget now, but it’s not so long ago that Netflix looked like a doomed company, having bungled the transition from discs in the mail to streaming video with the Quickster fiasco. But they reversed course, apologized, and plunged boldly ahead into producing and purchasing original television series on a mission to become the next decade’s HBO. After a little bit of stumbling, it seems to be working. Their streaming back end gives them a unique level of insight into what kinds of things viewers might want to watch (their adaptation of House of Cards waspartially cast by algorithmic analysis), and Orange Is The New Black has definitively established the nonnetwork as a potential destination for genuinely innovative programming.

Amazon pre-announces an illegal product. One big problem with Amazon’s plan for same-day delivery of small items via quadrotor drone is that they don’t have the technology working yet. Another problem is that it’s currently illegal. Announcing the nonexistent product on 60 Minutes is a smart way to make some lemonade. Get people talking about the potential benefits of this kind of delivery and you’re doing some prelobbying on behalf of commercial drone legalization.   

T-Mobile becomes the uncarrier. Blocked by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department from selling its T-Mobile unit to AT&T, Deutsche Telekom had to do something with the perennial laggard of the U.S. mobile phone industry. And in 2013, they did—breaking with the faux-subsidy model in which carriers offer you a high-interest loan to lock you into overpriced mobile service. Now T-Mobile has the best phone plans around and amazing free data deals for tablets. The “uncarrier” strategy has been so successful that Sprint now wants to buy them, posing a tough question for regulators—would a merger help scale up T-Mobile’s business innovations or throttle them in the crib?