a little (feminist) reflection
Parosol by Bracha Guy
may 24, 1999
heading up north along the mediterranean coast to upper galilee,
after a day's rest from shantipi, i'm back in tel aviv – post shavu'ot (the harvest festival of milk and cheese). i'm feeling kinda post harvesty and itchy myself, and i'm inspired to get out of the city and head north. enough busy city and trendy festival. it's time to get out in the country and see some real people. there must be more to israel than jerusalem, tel aviv, and the west bank.
every day has been another discovery. another reflection of the society through the complicated prism of the analytical tourist. all contradiction. what you see outwardly may not be the reality. there is always subtext. the culture is thousands of years old, although the state of israel is only fifty. so - the people and their relationship to each other, the land, the country and their god, as represented by places like jerusalem and tel aviv in israel proper, and hebron, nazareth, and ramalla in the west bank - have layers of civilization piled on top of one another. the layers have been lived with faith, violence and fanaticism, splattered with blood, baked by the sun, and are still confusedly at odds with themselves. the biblical history of the land, its being claimed by all three monotheistic religions as its own and exclusive "holy land", the two thousand year jewish history of being displaced from the land, the 1400 year clash and co-existence between christianity and islam, the founding of the state of israel in 1948 and its simultaneous arab challenge ever since, the refugee and unsettled status of the state of palestine, the ever-explosive hotbed of jerusalem, the modern high rise and contemporary culture of tel aviv, its imitative pop music and fashion, the ever-encroaching cancer of mcdonalds and the west – these factors and so many others have all intermixed, re-creating and polluting this one time land of milk and honey – this one time and still - spiritual oasis in the middle of the mid eastern desert.
Lady Ensemble by Svetlana Feigin
yet what is also so striking here is the industry, tenacity, and success of the founding fathers and mothers of israel, who have turned an arid desert into a flourishing, productive, and fertile nation. who have protected themselves from one hostile invasion, one bloody war, one political crisis, after another, decade after decade, year after year, day after day. so that each day, every day, has to be lived to the fullest. each day, every day has to be lived with joy, with hard work, with faith and commitment. because no one really knows when it might be their last.
and in light of all this, even more, or equally impressive, is the seeming vibrancy, idealism, enthusiasm, beauty, and health of the young people, the sons and daughters of the founders of israel. and their children. who sing. who dance freely. who believe in themselves. their nation. their jewishness. their destiny. "seeming", i'm told though, because the subtext, is that this very generation is just as lost as our american slacker gen xers. they have been disillusioned by the seventeen year old war on the lebanese front. like our vietnam. they don't know what israeli soldiers are doing there anymore, and every time they lose a single life, the country cries out in anguish, confusion, and disbelief. so that underneath all the "seeming" vitality is an ennui, a despair, an inarticulate longing? where is this elusive peace?
so i'm sitting on the train heading north towards haifa. yes, it's another city, but it's a good place to venture out from, and just a quick, air-conditioned hour from tel aviv. i have another "servas" host lined up there. a single israeli woman. so -- as the train speeds along – i find myself thinking – for no particular reason -- about israeli women. ok, maybe i can see the reason. because everywhere i look - on the train, in the streets, at the shantipi festival – there they are: healthy, fit, bronzed skin, long wavy hair, belly-exposing midriffs. and maybe i'm generalizing again, but, as a species, they are simply - strikingly beautiful. strong, sexy, and natural beauties. "sabras", i'm told, like the desert cactus - hard on the outside, soft on the inside. and yes, as a species, they seem to be completely unavailable - at least to me.
but - something else - the army seems to be a great equalizer of gender here in israel. women have been included in the social experiment. they seem so much more confidant than their american counterparts, so much more themselves, no less than men. they live, speak, and think like equals. in complete contrast to the veiled, subjugated arab women (even sephardic women) of the middle east. these israeli women seem to have learned responsibility, self-protection, self worth. "beautiful" women here are not reduced to sex objects - whose greatest attribute is looking good for men. sex, but no sex objects. wives, but equal partners. unthreatening feminism. they have not been educated to parlay their beauty into valuable commodities, to exchange it for opportunity or security. they do not seem to have the same fear of losing it - as it diminishes or disappears with age. here in israel, more than any place i've ever traveled to, women seem to have substance, respect, and strength. it is no coincidence that one of the nation's first leaders was golda meir, or, that these women who train, sweat, and shoot guns in the same boot camp as the men, come out speaking their minds, taking no shit, and having careers, dreams, and ideas of their own.
My Bouquet by Bracha Guy
in fact, my whole concept of what exactly is a "jewish woman" is turned upside down here. the "jewish american princess" is nowhere to be found in israel, except when in fact, she has come over from america. as hard as it is to accept, the stereotype of the spoiled, controlling american jewish girl, that i and so many of my jewish american tribesmen have so avidly avoided our whole lives, is suddenly deconstructed and obliterated in this multi-faceted jewish land. the women here seem freer, less manipulative, less princess-like. i no longer feel like i need to escape from them after five minutes of whining or domineering or simple conversation - whatever it is that usually makes me flee from them in america. of course maybe it's me, the jewish american prince calling the kettle black. in any event, it's a great fringe benefit of my trip to israel - expanding my narrow thinking and typecasting of not only jewish women, but also of "jews" in general. coming here to israel, and in such a short time having seen so many different types of jews - secular, religious, ashkenazi, sephardic, liberal, conservative, from so many different parts of the world - it's been an eye-opening and mind-expanding lesson. two things seem to have changed and expanded for me: first, externally, the variety and personality of jews in the world, and second, internally, my personal concept and definition of "jew". two for the price of one.
to be continued………
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can be found at Art of Israel