Author and journalist Tuvia Tenenbom speaks to Israel National News about his new book, in which he delves into the haredi community.
Tenebom, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1957 but now lives in Germany and the United States, explains that he rented a home in Mea She’arim for five months while researching and writing the book.
He says that lived in the haredi neighborhood for over a year while putting the book together.
He remarks that usually he disguises himself, and uses other names, when researching a community for a book, but in this case he was identified very quickly by his new neighbors.
He rented a house in the “heart of Mea She’arim.”
He said to his wife, “Let’s go to the heart of Mea She’arim, to the Casbah.”
“In the first half hour, five people approached me,” he says. They were intimately familiar with his work as an author and journalist – even referring to specific lines from his books – and wanted to know what he was currently writing.
“I was amazing to see that the haredim read my books,” he says. “It was shocking.”
He says he discovered the community is “amazingly open” to what is going on in the world.
“I don't know what I wrote in that page, I have no idea what the page is. I don't of course [don’t remember] the line, I don't even know what they’re talking about, but they read it,” he says, recalling how they would quote his writing to him.
Tenenbom, who grew up in the haredi world, decided to focus the book on dispelling the myths that people learn about the haredi community from the media.
When he told religious people his idea to live in Mea She’arim, they warned him: “Don’t dare.”
“The first night you come there people will congregate next to your place where you live and they’ll start screaming, ‘Get out of here.’ But this did not happen. What happened was totally different. They are amazingly welcoming. They invited us to Friday night dinners, for Shabbat morning. They came to visit us in the hotel, we go to visit them. We chat in the street. It was amazing.”
According to him, there is a tendency also to act protective or patronizing when it comes to the haredi community, especially around topics that are considered taboo to discuss in that community.
“First of all I say people stop protecting the haredi. They are normal human beings, they are very happy and very proud of what they are,” he says. “We have to stop treating them as such sensitive creatures – if you touch them they break. It’s amazingly patronizing.”
He describes how he fell in love with the community after taking time to be introduced to the neighborhood.
“Just go to Shabbat and see everyone, you walk on the streets over there and it’s so welcoming,” he says.