This Week in Production: Strong Women

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.

RACHEL

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.

 (Some colorful head coverings of Women of the Wall)

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…

(The Silverman ladies in front of the Western Wall) 

(*Why were some religious women harrassing other religious women while praying? This is a complex one, better explained in this article.)

HANEEN

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!

 (Two of our local visitors during Haneen’s interview)

BAT EL

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. ;)


AND NOW….

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!

A Crazy Day in Photos: Ovadia Yosef’s funeral

When I learned that the powerful and controversial man Rabbi Ovadia Yosef–a figure both loved and loathed–had died in Jerusalem on October 7, I suspected that the events around his funeral were not to be missed. I cancelled the day’s planned shoots, and my camera guy Arik and I headed toward the yeshiva where his funeral was to be held, deep in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Geula. Little did I know that it would end up attracting over 700,000 mourners–ten percent of Israel’s population–and be one of the most well-attended events in the country’s history. To add to the insanity of the day, a large majority of the attendees were ultra-Orthodox men, and there were many times when I couldn’t see another woman in my entire line of vision.

It was a fascinating, challenging, and as Arik said, “hardcore” experience, which is probably best summed up in photos:

(Outside the funeral. My camera guy, Arik, far right. Henceforth renamed “Arik the Brave.”) 

 (My view from the ground. Not another woman in sight.)

(This young man climbed up the side of the yeshiva building to get a glimpse of the funeral inside.)

(Spectators about a block from the funeral.)

(I was captivated by this young ultra-Orthodox mourner)

(Later that evening, the streets were lined and filled with hundreds of thousands of people waiting for the car carrying Rabbi Yosef’s body from the funeral to the graveyard. It is considered a very important mitzvah–or religiously mandated good deed–to accompany a man on his final journey.) 

(Awaiting the funeral car. I did not envy the driver that had to get through this crowd–with three police officers sitting on the hood of his van, attempting to clear the crowd.)

(The car finally arrives and the crowd swarms to touch it. Arik got swept up by the crowd while filming and says that his feet didn’t touch the ground for 200 meters!)

This Week in Production: Transitions

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but given how much has happened and all of the tranistions around me, it feels much longer. Jerusalem and I have experienced the transition from relentless summer heat to pleasant fall breezes; from my wonderful temporary camera guy Snir to my dear DP Roy, who is thankfully back to full health; from the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the festivity of Sukkot. One of the most significant transitions was internal: I went from feeling like a curious and well-connected outsider to someone who feels at home in Jerusalem. Roy and I filmed in Tel Aviv yesterday and, for the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to leave that bustling city where most of my friends live and come “home” to Jerusalem.

(Me and Roy filming in Tel Aviv)

Although the series of Jewish holidays beginning with Rosh Hashana put somewhat of a damper on production, it was important to my sense of belonging and understanding that I experience them in Jerusalem, and I am so glad that I did. It’s hard to imagine Yom Kippur here until you experience it. I thought Shabbats here were quiet, but they’re nothing compared to the highest of High Holidays where it’s basically illegal to drive and everyone in the Jewish areas is fasting and praying and repenting and generally being quiet and contemplative. I walked for about half a mile in the afternoon down the center of a normally jam-packed road before I saw another living soul. It was deserted by modern civilization, almost apocalyptic, and yet truly beautiful.


(A normally busy intersection on Yom Kippur)

Now, less than a week later, the city has taken on an entirely different spirit for Sukkot, the harvest holiday where Jews are obligated to build, eat, and live under the stars in small huts or sukkahs. It’s like the whole town has embraced the idea of “harvest” and sprung to life, with sukkahs on every block, and restaurants expanding their outdoor space for the week, and people in the city center gathering, eating and dancing outside together. (By the way, a big huge public thank you to those who took me into their homes for various holiday meals–Lisa, Erica, Einat, Danya!! Am so grateful to you for helping me stave off holiday homesickness.)

 

(An artist puts final touches on Musrara’s “Peace Sukkah”)

In between the holidays, the depth and range of conversations, interviews, and shoots I enaged in for Battle for Jerusalem and Jerusalem Unfiltered was mind-boggling. Here’s a small smattering:

  • A Daughter of a former Prime Minister who is now running for City Council
  • An Anarchist coming off of a legal trial about his activities
  • An ultra-orthodox Jewish businesswoman providing opportunities for religious, female-run-startups
  • A radical, Jewish, pro-Palestinian activist
  • A pro-peace, Palestinian, star-on-the-rise chef
  • An anti-Zionist, feminist, Palestinian activist
  • An Arab-Israeli social worker who witnessed a suicide bombing on her first week in Jerusalem
  • A religious, Jewish, “out” gay man
  • A modern-Orthodox Jew doing religious community outreach for a city council campaign
  • Four Secular Artists doing collaborations with diverse residents of a low-income housing project
  • The Jewish and Muslim principals of a Palestinian-Israeli collaborative community theater group
  • An organizer and resident of the modern, city-based version of Israeli kibbutzes

Some of these conversations were difficult and filled with hard truths, some were fun and light-hearted, but all were rewarding. Each takes a lot of energy, especially because of the importance of understanding that which goes unsaid, and the oft-conflicting narratives here, subtleties which are even harder to grasp as an outsider. One things is for sure: that adage about “the more you learn the less you know” has never felt more true.

Tomorrow marks one month until the municipal elections. The fact that locals are now asking me for advice about who to vote for doesn’t hurt my burgeoining sense of belonging. ;) I anticipate an intense and fascinating month of shoots. I will do my best to make time to fill you in. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and Shabbat Shalom v’ Sukkot Sameach from Jerusalem!

This Week in Production: Jerusalem’s Rhythms

I’m enjoying this new tradition of blogging the week on Saturday, while Jerusalem rests. Hope you are too. When I describe a Jeruaslem Shabbat to people who haven’t been here, I talk about how the entire city shuts down. I talk about the drama of a loud, big, busy city becoming almost startlingly quiet overnight, and how it’s a phenomenon that you can’t really believe until you experience it for yourself.

One of our interview subjects this week, David, described it differently. He said that it’s not that the city “shuts down,” but that its energy is directed to a different place than during the rest of the week. I appreciate that way of thinking, and after a few weeks here I feel like I am finally getting into the rhythms and energy shifts of the city. Catching onto the flow of Jerusalem life helped make this past week a really productive one, with lots of interesting shoots.

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(David at his t-shirt shop)

Women of the Wall

Because the national and local elections are next month, lots of political maneuvering has been going on countrywide. On Monday, a contraversional decision was reached regarding a mixed-gender prayer area near Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel or Wailing Wall. One of the groups who has been most vocallly in favor of womens’ rights to pray as they wish at the wall is Women of the Wall (WoW), and they held a vigil there to protest that day’s ruling. Of course, I had to be there. I went by myself, wanting to keep a relatively low profile and unsure if I could even bring a male shooter into the women’s area.

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Given that WoW members have been arrested at the wall numerous times, often for such seemingly innocuous things as wearing the prayer shawls typically reserved for men, I expected some hubbub. It was a bright, hot day and I caught the women at the end of an almost 24-hour vigil in time for their evening prayer service, and the group was understandably small and tired. It turned out that I was the one who attracted attention from a security guard, not even five minutes after I arrived, as I began to film the women. Although I have filmed at the Kotel several times over the years, I have never been stopped or questioned. This time, he demanded a press pass and insisted that I was not supposed to be there. I am proud to say that I gathered up all my Israeli-style “chutzpah” and kept filming. I knew that I wasn’t doing anything illegal and I had a right to be there, so I stayed. The event was relatively low key but I was happy to get some really nice footage, and I will go with a camera guy to WoW’s larger service this coming Sunday, as the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) approaches.

20130831-170505.jpg(Natalie Portman’s doppelganger prays at the Kotel. Am I wrong?)

Making Headway

I hired a camera man on Wednesday and Thursday, which always allows me to be more productive as I can pack the day with shoots. (By the way, update on my beloved Director of Photogtaphy, Roy: he is feeling much better and physically stronger and we may be able to work together again as soon as next week!) This week’s dude was a talented shooter with the exceptional name of Snir Kazir. It turned out to be great working with him, as he is actually part of the scene that I’ve been documenting, having gone to photography school in Jerusalem, and was connected to several of the people that I have filmed or will be filming. It definitely added to an immediate comfort level, which can be a challenge in a new production partnership.

(Snir Kazir is on the job)

Snir and I covered a lot of ground, and it’s mind-spinning to run around and witness such different aspects of Jerusalem life in such a short period of time. The most dramatic of these was going from a tense, loud, formal Jerusalem City Council meeting (the last of this configuration before next month’s elections, during which Rachel Azaria passionately defended the opening of a secular kindergarten for girls) to a midnight contact improv dance jam in an open field in the center of the artist-hippie enclave of Ein Kerem, where strangers danced together in the moonlight.

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(Two very different meetings…)

We filmed the dancing as b-roll for an interview I actually shot two summers ago with Danya Elraz,  a friend and internationally recognized contact improv dancer based in Jerusalem. I’ve followed Danya’s work for a long time, and it was exciting to capture footage of a special night, where religious and secular alike joined the dancing, accompanied by a keyboardist perched under a tree, and Danya was really in her element conducting the orchestra of bodies.

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(Eli creating and showing off the symbolic “eternal flame” for his High Holiday ark)

We filmed a few new interviews for Jerusalem Unfiltered as well. I mentioned Eli and Elyassaf in the last post, and both went well. Eli is a theatrical director and lighting and set designer who is active in Hevruta, an organiztion for gay, religious men. During our interview, he was building an ark to hold the Torah scrolls at next week’s high holiday services for the independent prayer group that he belongs to. Eli told a beautiful story of his realization that the intagible quality of lighting design was similar to the intangible quality that draws him to Jerusalem.

We interviewed the sparkling Elyassaf at his Salon Shabazi, where he discussed the ideals that motivated him, as a ninth generation Jerusalemite, to open a collectively run cafe and community center “living room” in the middle of the funky, bohemian, residential neighborhood of Nachlaot.

20130831-170445.jpg(Nachlaot)

He told great stories of the important need that the Salon fills, and how it plays into his vision of a pluralistic city. For example, there are times when a major Zionist organization will be conducting a meeting downstairs, while the left-wing organizers of the pro-Palestinian Sheik Jarrah protests are meeting upstairs. Later in the evening, we came back to catch some of the action at the Salon, and filmed a wonderful scene with locals crammed into the small, shabby chic space and spilling onto the porch, drinking beer and listening to a performance by a mixed Palestinian-Israeli band playing spirited Middle Eastern music, as Elyassaf danced around and handed out shots of Tubi 60, a locally produced ginger-lemon liquor.

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(Elyassaf in the “living room”)

We also filmed with the aforementioned David, who started Nu Campaign, a social-entrprenurial t-shirt company, and Einat, who is the head of young artist programming for New Spirit, an organization that provides opportunities for post-students to stay and thrive in the city as opposed to leaving the city to swim in less complicated waters. This coming week will be slower for filming, but interesting in terms of my own understanding of Jerusalem, as it will be my first time experiencing the Jewish High Holidays in the “Holy City.” For those of you who celebrate, wishing you all things sweet in the new year.

Xo from Jerusalem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Off With a Bang (or two)

I’m pretty sure that my parents are the primary consumers of this blog, but this is one entry they’d probably rather skip since it details the rather rocky (read: a little bit scary) start that I had with production here in Israel. The trouble began on my first Saturday in town, when I was supposed to meet and form a shooting plan with my talented and beloved camera man, Roy Gluska. He called me that afternoon to say he couldn’t make it. He was calling from the hospital. Because he had been in a car accident. Bang number one. (Update: he’s out of the hospital, nothing’s broken, he may be back to work soon.)

The following day, I went to the first shoot on my own, due to Roy’s condition. It was a strategy meeting for Rachel Azaria’s inner sanctum campaign team, and my first time meeting most of them. I tucked myself and my camera into a corner to film the meeting and about an hour in I felt kind of hot despite the air conditioning. Next thing I know, I was staring up at Rachel’s communications director, who was holding my feet in the air. I had passed out. I went straight back, camera and all, and hit my head on the floor. Bang number two.

Fortunately, both me and the camera were relatively unharmed, but I was supremely embarrased and a bit freaked out. Rachel got me a piece of chocolate, one of her fellow candidates brought over a chair, and I filmed the rest of the meeting sitting down. Next day, I went to the emergency room and it turned out I had some sort of viral infection that kept me in bed for the the following three days.

Feel better vs. Feel good

Needless to say, production didn’t exactly start off as I had hoped, but I tried to take it all as a lesson in rolling with the punches, as filming is always unpredictable, and I also got a little glimpse into Israeli culture. (Aside from the telling experience of asking three different locals directions to the pharmacy and being answered by each of them, “You go up, and turn right on one of the streets.” Um, thanks.) Whenever I told an Israeli that I wasn’t feeling well, the response was “Feel good.” It wasn’t “Get well soon,” or “Feel better,” which would be the more typical American responses. It told me something about the immediacy of everything here. There’s no time for “feeling better.” One must simply “feel good.”

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(
See, Mom? I’m all better!)
As I began to recover, I filmed a couple more campaign meetings and a great event where Rachel was mingling in a park with young parents and families. It was nice to witness her connecting with her constituents out in the field, and especially to capture her own balancing act, as her husband and four kids were also at the event and demanding attention in the midst of her campaigning.

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(Rachel campaigning with her daughter in tow) 
This past Thursday, exactly two months before election day, we also did the first formal interviews with the key players in Rachel’s campaign. Her relatively small, grassroots party (Yerushalmim, or “Jerusalemites”) is attempting a real coup; Of the 31 seats on Jerusalem’s City Council, they are trying to increase their number from one (currently occupied by Rachel) to five or six, which would drastically increase their ability to influence the city’s future. I interviewed Marik, the campaign manger; Omri, the communications director, and the two next in line on Yerushalmim’s ticket: Tamir, a Reform rabbi and Aharon, an Orthodox rabbi. The makeup of this ticket verges on radical in these parts, where communities often self-segregate depending on the nuances of their religious affiliations.

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 (Yerushalmim volunteers meeting)

City of Stories

Aside from kicking off the Battle for Jerusalem shoots, I filmed some cool b-roll and did some exciting planning for the short films of Jerusalem Unfiltered. The subjects that I’m contacting have such cool stories, like Eli, a theater lighting designer who is active in the Jerusalem’s unique Orthodox gay scene; and Elyassaf, who started a funky, vegan, activist “living room” cafe in the bohemian neighborhood of Nachlaot. I had an awesome meeting with Charlene, one of our funders, who had more great ideas to share (like an ultra-Orthodox woman who’s starting an incubator for religious-woman-owned startups!) and worked with a new AP, Chris Goldenbaum, a cinema student who comes to Jerusalem via Brazil. Oh, and I moved into a proper apartment instead of the hostel I had parked in for the first couple weeks.

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(
Salon Shabazi)
So, it’s all coming together. I’m “feeling good” and ready to go into full swing next week. Meanwhile, Shabbat Shalom from the very quiet Saturday streets of Jerusalem.

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