Just a short drive from the hummus shops and hairdressers in the center of Pardes Hannah, there is a free-love commune where dozens of people happily give the finger to societal norms.
Old-timers in the Israeli town think it’s a myth, and even the many hippies who have migrated to the small city of 42,000 an hour north of Tel Aviv aren’t sure whether to believe the rumors of the love collective established last year.
“Don’t call us a couple,” says 33-year-old Shir Talor as she sits with one of her partners. “Call us lovers.”
Roi Frampshes-Givony smiles at Talor in adoring approval. The pair wouldn’t want to use language that excludes Michal Frampshes-Vexler, Aviv Losh, or the three others who permanently live on the commune — nor the many extended members of the polyamorous “family” who frequently visit.
Frampshes-Givony explains: “I have a relationship with Shir and Michal in the house, and others outside the house.”
He lives for today, and doesn’t believe in asking long-term questions like who will stay together or who will be companions in old age. “I don’t know if I want to grow old with her,” the 39-year-old circus performer says, looking at Talor. “Every day I choose the relationship with her anew. I tell her I love her.”
This insistence on living for the moment manifests itself in other areas, as well. Members of the commune don’t mark the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which signifies the Jewish new year; rather, they celebrate Sof Hashanah, or “end of the year.” As other Israelis wish their friends good luck, this crew just says, “que sera sera.”
A hot idea
Talor doesn’t take the predictable path of most alum of the Israeli Intelligence Corps’ Unit 8200, who often head successful tech startups or lecture at international forums on cybersecurity. Instead, after 11 years in the elite unit, her big project is to pioneer polyamory in a home dominated by a “cuddle space” large enough for several people to get intimate.
She is convinced that society must become more “pluralistic” about sex rather than view it as necessarily bound up with marriage, childbearing and exclusivity.
“For us, sexuality is not a goal you get to on the way to something or somewhere. It’s a tool, just like conversation or playing board games, to spend time with another person and build intimacy. Sometimes sexuality leads to other things and sometimes it doesn’t,” she says.
Talor is an architect — or as she puts it, an “anarchitect,” meaning “anarchist architect” — and uses her design skills to map the intricate relationships between more than 30 people in the polyamorous group with crisscrossing lines. She calls the diagram a “polycule” because it resembles the blueprint of a molecule, but the web is actually much bigger, she stresses, with many more relationships between members of both the same and different sex.
She says that polyamory is widely frowned upon in general, but gets particularly negative reactions in Israel “because of the connection between religion and state.”
The ties that bind
Talor shares the meet-cute story in which a shared appreciation for Japanese-style bondage brought her, Frampshes-Givony, and their existing partners together.
“I was in a monogamous relationship with Aviv for about 10 years,” says Talor. “We met in the army, and we decided to open up our relationship about three years ago.”
A year-and-a-half ago she was at a festival with Losh and he was “spending time” with someone else. “Maybe they were just talking, maybe making out, maybe having sex, it really doesn’t matter,” she clarifies.
She spotted Frampshes-Givony, a circus performer, suspending someone in shibari, a form of Japanese rope bondage art. “I asked him to suspend me, and he suspended me from a tree. After we finished the session I told Roi I felt we had a strong connection and he suggested we spend the night together in his truck.”
As the “amazing” night was coming to an end, the lady of the truck arrived. Frampshes-Vexler was (and is) Frampshes-Givony’s partner. They had been together for five years at the time of the festival, and share the Frampshes family name, which they invented together.
The couple had spoken about opening up their relationship from the start, and it happened one day when Frampshes-Vexler fell for someone else. She told Frampshes-Givony, and he said that was “great.”
Talor recalls that Frampshes-Vexler was equally enthusiastic upon finding her in the truck.
“I knew her, but not very well,” Talor says. “She came into the truck and wasn’t surprised there was someone there, but was surprised it was me. Her reaction was: ‘Hey baby, you bring back the best-looking ladies.’”
“We spent the next few hours together, talking, having some sexual interactions, cuddling, and just spending time together,” Talor says, adding that this is “just one example” of how members of their commune expand their sexual circles — and a “very representative” example.
All members of the “family” they have built, whether they live at the commune or elsewhere, have free run of their house, a large building in which nobody has a bedroom. Like monogamy, conventional home layouts are seen as oppressive social constructs — every area in this home is available for everyone to do anything with anyone.
It’s normally adults-only — the residents don’t have kids, though “some of our lovers have kids and sometimes they bring them over,” Talor says. On occasions when children visit, nudity and sexual activity are avoided.
Members of the commune are so keen to define themselves as a large “family” that they say “biological family” whenever talking about blood relations. On the biggest family occasion of the Israeli calendar — the first night of Passover, or seder night — 30 people gathered at the commune. Just as the commune coterie eschew conventional relationships, they also tend to reject religion, and turned seder night on its head.
“Seder” is Hebrew for order, as the night is based on traditions carried out in a strictly-prescribed arrangement. The commune hosted “balagan night,” or “night of chaos.”
“I don’t think tradition is bad; it just needs to be adjusted to what serves you at the moment,” says Frampshes-Givony. “So instead of everyone going to biological family for seder, we have balagan night. We eat yummy stuff together, we do things that are pleasant to us, and this year we read a feminist haggadah [exodus story] about releasing mankind from patriarchy.”
Heresy and hedonism
Talor’s father grew up in one of London’s most Jewish suburbs, Hendon, and moved to Israel after years in a Zionist youth movement. But, like Frampshes-Givony, Talor doesn’t consider herself Jewish and rejects Zionism and national identity. Most commune members were brought up Jewish, though some are non-Jews who have come to Israel from overseas. There are no Arabic-speaking members as of yet.
Like Frampshes-Givony, Talor doesn’t consider herself Jewish and rejects Zionism and national identity
Members of the group believe their lifestyle is one of many taboos in need of breaking, and give lectures promoting this message under the banner of an educational project they call Naked Truth.
They don’t know how long their commune will last or what may ultimately cause it to disband — though they exude confidence that jealousy won’t get the better of them.
Frampshes-Givony claims to “never experience jealousy the way most people define it,” as what a lover feels for someone else “has nothing to do with what she feels for me.”
“I don’t think you develop immunity to jealousy; what you develop is better tools to communicate about it and deal with it,” says Talor.
“The process I’m going through is to learn how to ask for this thing I need, and not blame my partner for doing something wrong,” she says. “If I want specific attention from Roi, I’m the same level of upset if he’s with another lover as if he’s deep in his phone, scrolling through Facebook.”