Paganism in the Holy Land

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"Like many other soldiers who took part in the Gaza operation, Omer, 20, occasionally took a few moments to pray, but he did not pray to the Lord of Israel. Omer considers himself pagan, and has sworn allegiance to three ancient gods. During combat, he says they appeared before him, giving him strength during the most arduous moments. Omer is still in the army, and therefore refused to be interviewed for this story. Yet he did say he belongs to a religion whose goal is to revive worship of ancient gods. In an online Hebrew-language paganism forum, Omer's accounts of his Gaza experience are standard fare. Another user recalled how he prayed to Anat, the Canaanite god of war, while serving in an elite combat unit.

The two soldiers are part of a tiny community of pagans that has developed in Israel.
Influenced by movements in the United States and Europe, followers believe in multiple gods. "Modern paganism is comprised of a wide variety of religions and faiths, most of which are based on ancient pagan rituals," said Rinat Korbet, a Bar-Ilan University researcher who wrote her thesis on the pagan community in Israel based on its online presence. "People seek to take the essence of ancient paganism and suit it to our time period. Many of the followers have home altars where they can express their belief in nature and the gods. All the people I interviewed also took part in ceremonies and community rituals, in environments conducive to the spirit of paganism." Korbet will present her research at the First Israeli Conference for the Study of Contemporary Spiritualities which opens tomorrow at the University of Haifa.

Due to Jewish sensitivity to idol worship, which is perceived as a sin, most Israeli pagans reveal their beliefs only to those who share them. They usually keep religious gatherings, such as the "holiday of equality" (Vernal equinox) on March 21st, secret. Alon Kobets, 29, a neo-paganist from Rehovot, is one of the few who decided "to come out of the closet." "Some people live in fear, but I'm past hiding my faith," he said. "Some guys live with religious families. They can't tell their parents, 'I don't believe in Judaism, I'm a pagan.' They'd chop off their heads.""

I wish them all the luck and blessings. Makes me want to shake some sense monotheistic folk who bemoan about how "bad" they have it. At least they don't have to live in physical fear of their own families. Sure, some missionaries end up in a bad way. But I don't have much sympathy for them. They are people who go into foreign countries and try to force/convince/guilt trip the locals into Christianity without learning or taking into consideration the existing culture and then get all up in arms when they piss off the people to whom they're preaching.

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