«Israelis recognize each other by their sandals.»

Four questions for Tamar El’Or

This week marks the 125th anni­ver­s­a­ry of the First Zio­nist Con­gress in Basel 1897. The Con­gress inspi­red a poli­ti­cal and cul­tu­ral renais­sance, dis­se­mi­na­ting, among others, the Star of David as a secu­lar Jewish sym­bol. But if the Magen David was the most famous sym­bol to come out of Zio­nism, it was not the only one. Many other Zio­nist mate­ri­al and imma­te­ri­al lega­ci­es inspi­red Israe­li cul­tu­re. Nao­mi Lub­rich asked Tamar El’Or (Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jeru­sa­lem) about her rese­arch on the san­dal as an expres­si­on of a dis­tinc­tively Israe­li self-fashioning.

Nao­mi Lub­rich: In your arti­cle «The Soul of the San­dal,»  you wri­te that a san­dal from Bibli­cal times dis­co­ve­r­ed in Isra­el around 1960 infor­med a style that would beco­me quint­essen­ti­al­ly Israe­li. What are you refer­ring to?

Tamar El’Or: I am refer­ring to a san­dal found in the cave of let­ters in Nahal Hever by Yiga­el Yadin. Sin­ce it was found next to a pouch with per­so­nal docu­ments of a woman named Baba­tha, the san­dal is ascri­bed to her. You will find an image on the site of the Israe­li Anti­qui­ties Authority’s Natio­nal Treasures. 

It has one long ver­ti­cal lea­ther strap which runs along the foot from bet­ween the toes, wraps the ankle, and ties its­elf back in front. The­se ver­ti­cal-shaped san­dals were very com­mon in the Meso­po­ta­mi­an regi­on from India and Per­sia down to Egypt. Along with the hori­zon­tal san­dal (the Bibli­cal san­dal), they pro­vi­de two basic forms which were models for crea­ting what can be ter­med a «local Israe­li sandal.»

NL: You wri­te that some san­dals recrea­ted Bibli­cal foot­we­ar, while others were func­tio­n­al. San­dals were the pre­fer­red foot­we­ar in kib­but­zim. Which form was typi­cal for kib­butz­niks – and why?

TE: San­dals were made in the kib­but­zim by local shoema­kers, most of whom came from cen­tral Euro­pe. They were less fami­li­ar with the Meso­po­ta­mic style and recrea­ted the hori­zon­tal two-strap san­dal, fun­ni­ly known in Ger­ma­ny as «Jesus san­dal.» This style beca­me very popu­lar among locals who wan­ted to look like kib­butz­niks. «Jesus san­dal» was rebran­ded in Tel Aviv and tur­ned into a «Bibli­cal sandal.»

NL: A major Israe­li san­dal-maker in 1944 ope­ned a com­pa­ny by the name of «Nim­rod.» Who was Nim­rod, and what con­no­ta­ti­ons did the name car­ry in the 1940s?

TE: Nim­rod is a hero and hun­ter in Gene­sis (10:8–13). He is the Bibli­cal coun­ter­part of a mytho­lo­gi­cal figu­re from anci­ent Meso­po­ta­mia and has a rich histo­ry star­ting in the second mill­en­ni­um B.C.E. The Bible descri­bes him as a heroic hun­ter and a king, but anci­ent her­me­neu­tic Jewish texts are cri­ti­cal of his vio­lence and rebel­li­on. His name in Hebrew means: «let us rebel». A Mid­rash pres­ents him as the ulti­ma­te pagan vis-à-vis Abra­ham (Beres­hit Raba; 38:13). Tra­di­tio­nal and ortho­dox Jews did not and do not name their sons Nim­rod, but begin­ning in the 1940s, it beca­me a fashion­ab­le first name among non­or­tho­dox Israe­lis, who sear­ched for Cana­a­ni­te con­nec­tions. The­re is a lot more to say about Nim­rod. The artist Y. Dan­zi­ger crea­ted a sta­tue of Nim­rod which was huge­ly influ­en­ti­al, as I exp­lai­ned in my article.

NL: Has the san­dal as an expres­si­on of Zio­nist self-fashio­ning had its day? Or does it still car­ry mea­ning in Isra­el dif­fe­rent from its mea­ning elsewhere?

TE: It is still a local object with codes easi­ly read by Israe­lis. While tra­ve­ling abroad, Israe­lis reco­gni­ze each other by their san­dals. The ori­gi­nal look is still being repro­du­ced, eit­her in its ori­gi­nal form or with new and dif­fe­rent mate­ri­als and colors. Take a look at the­se hand­ma­de kib­butz san­dals, or at the­se ones, machi­ne-made in Hebron by Pales­ti­ni­ans. For a con­tem­pora­ry look, check out Shani Lax’s shoes. For an «out­door look» see Source, and for an urban look, see Naot.

NL: Tamar El’Or, thank you very much for your insight! I’ll take a good look the next time I see an Israe­li wea­ring sandals.

verfasst am 29.08.2022