The end of a sun-scorched street in the Israeli Haredi enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh is probably not where you’d expect to find a yoga studio. But proprietors Rachel and Avraham Kolberg learned the practice in India before adopting the ultra-orthodox lifestyle of their fellow Breslever Hasids, and now they run a low-profile, gender-segregated yoga studio for Orthodox Jews.
Why the low profile? Many in the Breslever community maintain that the meditative exercise practice (which Avraham Kolberg describes as trying to make a person “aware of his heel”) constitutes idol worship. One student, a teenage girl, was recently threatened with expulsion from her religious seminary when word got out about her yoga-cizing. She and other students practically sneak into the Kolbergs’ home studio, and many of the women practice in their long skirts and stockings.
Despite constant social pressures, the Kolbergs and their students continue with their yoga study, saying that for them the practice is not just good exercise, but is a way of worshipping God. “This,” Kolberg said, “is spirituality.”