This coming week will be one of the biggest and most important for our production. Tuesday, October 22, is Election Day in Jerusalem, and it’s a day I’ve been waiting for since I first started thinking about this project over four years ago, shortly after the last municipal elections. Women’s issues have been at the forefront of my mind throughout, and I’m hoping to take inspiration from some of the strong women we’ve filmed in recent weeks to gird my own strength for the intense and exciting week to come.
Of course, you already know Rachel Azaria, one of the main protagonists of our story. We have spent many hours with her leading up to Election Day, on which she hopes that the Yerushalmim party she founded during the last elections will increase their presence on City Council from one to four or five seats. I’ve learned much more about Rachel, and my admiration for her has only grown as I’ve seen how hard she works to raise four young kids (often running home to breastfeed between meetings!), be on city council (an unpaid position), lead her campaign with integrity, manage complicated conversations with constituents on the Facebook page that she runs herself, and keep a paid job.
Spending so much time with Rachel has also confirmed my belief that she is a symbol of what the future of this city could look like, as she tries to soften several very concrete boundaries and create a city where people with very different beliefs can live harmoniously.
We’ve also interviewed several impressive women recently for the short films of our sister project, Jerusalem Unfiltered:
SUSAN & HALLEL
Mother and daughter team, Susan and Hallel, are another force to be reckoned with. Immigrants from the US, Susan is a rabbi from the Reform movement, which is barely recognized in Israel where Orthodoxy has a stronghold on anything related to Judaism. When her teenaged daughter Hallel showed interest in attending a monthly religious service with Women of the Wall earlier this year, Susan decided to delay a flight and go with her. And it’s a good thing, because that particular month was when the shit really hit the fan for Women of the Wall, and several women–including Susan and Hallel–were arrested for wearing traditional prayer shawls which had been declared illegal for women by the religious authority of the site.
While traumatic for the women, the event acutally ended up bolstering international press and support for their movement, especially because of Susan and Hallel’s relationship to the American comedian and actress, Sarah Silverman (their sister and aunt, respectively). We did a great interview with these articulate ladies, who have only become more passionate about womens’ rights to pray freely at the Western Wall since the aforementioned incident.
On the Friday after our interview, I went on my own to film the Women of the Wall’s monthly service, and it was an incredibly moving experience. To pray with tallitot and tefillin (traditional prayer garb) has now been legalized for women, so imagine this scene: 7 am and the sun is rising over the ancient white stones of the Western Wall. About 200 Women of the Wall, wearing colorful prayer shawls and head coverings, beautifully and peacefully singing their morning prayers. Surrounding these women, a ring of female police officers in green uniforms holds hands to protect them from a larger ring of several thousand young, ultra-Orthodox women. The young women, bussed in under the auspices of another event, are screaming, laughing, jeering, mocking, and otherwise harrassing the Women of the Wall.* Three circles of Jewish women, doing three very different things, at Judaism’s holiest site, and me, my camera, Susan, Hallel, and Susan’s youngest daughter Shira sandwiched right in the middle. You kinda had to be there…
(*Why were some religious women harrassing other religious women while praying? This is a complex one, better explained in this article.)
My interview with Haneen, a Palestinian Phd student, was one of the most sincere and moving that I’ve ever conducted. I choked up several times hearing about the challenges that she has faced in Jerusalem, how she has learned to love the city over many years here, and some of the injustices that she has witnessed in East Jerusalem as a social worker and director of the Ataa Center for Human Rights. Her passion for the city in all its complexity, and for helping others navigate these complexities, was palpable.
(Haneen overlooking Issawiya, one of the Arab East Jerusalem villages where she began her social work career)
Haneen’s Jerusalem journey began on an especially rocky road. Having moved here from a village in northern Israel at age 18 to study at Hebrew University, she witnessed a suicide bombing on campus during her first semester. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, campus police proceeded to round up all of the Arab students and take them to a nearby graveyard, handcuffed and questioned as potential suspects for hours. The fact that Haneen could ulitmately reconcile herself with this experience, and lead a life in the service of others, showed me the incredible strength of her character. On top of that, she is kind, beautiful, smart and just all around awesome. I am really looking forward to editing the piece about here and sharing it with you!
I met the charismatic Ethiopian teen, Bat El, through Tracey, founder of the Malkat Shva Community Center. Even though she is only a teenager, the phrase “Future Leader of Israel” kept running through my mind during our interview. As she walked us through the industrial neighborhood of Talpiot where much of the Ethiopian community is centered, younger girls joined us just to follow along and be around her. She explained how most of the community emigrated to Israel all together 15 years ago when she was only one years old, and despite the social challenges of the neighborhood, which include systemic racism, she is determined to be a positive role model for her younger peers and raise the whole community up. Perhaps she will be running for City Council when I do the follow-up film in ten years.
I’ll have three talented camera guys filming all over town on Election Day, from when the polls open around 7 am Tuesday to when the results roll in at about 2 am Wednesday. Wish us luck to channel our inner “Strong Women,” and get the best footage possible!Posted by lizfilm | 0 comments