Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: In your novel "Malkat Ha-Yofi Shel Yerushalayim" (german title: "Die Sch├Ânheitsk├Ânigin von Jerusalem") the women in the Ermoza family obey orders and traditions, they never complain, never revolt. Until one of the characters does: the granddaughter, Gabriela. She is wild and rebellious. Like her, women in Israel today do protest, amongst other topics they fight for their rights to pray at the Kotel. Please tell us a bit more about the women┬┤s right movement in Israel, both in private and public life.
Sarit Yishai-Levi: First, I don┬┤t necessarily agree that the women are obedient. Luna fights for her independence, she manipulates, disobeys her mother, and finds ways to bypass her father.
Gabriela is the youngest. She is the first generation born after the state of Israel was established, and she becomes a woman during the late 60s and early 70s. This was a time where young people in Israel were deeply affected by the cultural revolutions that were taking place elsewhere: the hippies in the states, the student protest in France and so on. Gabriela┬┤s Israel is an open, connected, and developing place, and indeed, the woman in Israel gain more and more victories and accomplishments. Since the 80┬┤s high education in Israel is the same for both men and women, women play key roles in the economy, four women are spear-heading the largest banks in Israel, we have a woman who is the minister of justice, a woman as the head of the supreme court and 51% percent of the workforce in courts in Israel are women. And yet, there is still a long way to go. Israel is a complex place, with a complex cocktail of religions, nationalities, and traditions. There are still places in Israel where the reality is different for women. I personally feel like a completely equal person, but I know some women will contradict me, and I know their experience may be different. As for the Kotel, the act of separating man from woman there is fairly "new". Until 1929, man and woman still prayed together. I have photos in my own family┬┤s archive that show that. I am for joint prayer at the Kotel. I am for joint prayers in general. My son, Dan, celebrated his Bar-Mitzvah in a synagogue where men and women are not separated. The whole family sat together. I went up to read the Torah with my son, and it was a constitutive experience for me.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: Like the women in your book you come from a sephardic family. How much of you and your family background is to be found in the book?
Sarit Yishai-Levi: It is important to note that the book is not an autobiography. Like any author, I draw from memories and real-life events mixed
with a very active imagination.
Some of the events in the book were based on historic events, but, some of the family dynamics and of course the characters themselves are influenced by my own family in some form or another.
The fact that I am the 8th generation of my family born in Israel (which is a very rare thing in an immigrant country) had a tremendous affect on my identity and as a result, influenced my writing as well.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: In your book you mainly describe the unequal situation of Sephardic and Ashkenazy Jews in the time of the 1950ies. Can you please tell us a bit about the situation today?
As I mentioned, Israel is an immigrant country. The struggle to "melt" many people arriving from many different places into one "melting pot" was only partially successful, and in a way, continues to this day. Each one of the "Aliyot" brought its own traditions, believes, and culture. The Ashkenazi Jews were different from the Jews coming from the Arab countries. That caused a clash, an arrogance that took the shape of discrimination and deprivation. As years went by, the gap narrowed, but it still exists. The Jews from the Arab countries still feel discriminated, and apparently rightly so. Today, the younger, highly educated generation, particularly of families coming from Morocco, is unearthing in articles, TV shows and documentaries, the full extent of the discrimination their families experienced, and is intent on tackling the roots of the problem.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: Talking about your upcoming reading and discussion at the German-Israeli Literature Days in Berlin. The topic is "┬┤Too much of a good thing?┬┤ Equal opportunity, gender and intergenerational equality ... it┬┤s all well and good. But how much equality are we really ready for?" (panel: Sunday, 15 April 2018, 12:00 pm, SOPHIENS├ćLE, Sophienstra├če 18, 10178 Berlin):
How do you relate to this title? How, do you think, social justice, gender and intergenerational equality can be achieved?
I truly believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We are very different from each other and I understand that more and more as I grow older. The years have taught me that we as women are built differently and I truly believe that we are "better" in many aspects, especially concerning the emotional aspects of life. Before, we did not have a chance to prove our abilities. We were restricted by religion, traditions, beliefs and costumes and our steps have been narrowed. The Suffragettes started fighting for gender equality, but this equality is not yet achieved and it takes work, every day and every hour.
As for social justice, the world is unfortunately not fair and not just. The attempt to make the world into a completely equal collective that shares everything equally is doomed to fail. Look at the Kibbutz┬┤s in Israel that are after years, are now being privatized. Look at the USSR and other communist countries.
And thus, in the world we live in, some of us are lucky. And those who are situated in stronger positions must support the less fortunate. Governments need to use taxes to take care of the elderly (and in Israel holocaust survivors), the disabled, to lower income families and especially to children, to whom we must allow equal opportunities.
I fight for equality and social justice and pray the world is heading toward a better future, where all of its citizens have an equal opportunity to live respectfully.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: Talking about the image of "The Beauty Queen" in general, and especially addressing to you as the senior correspondent for the magazine Olam Ha┬┤Isha: Why, do you think, more and more women (and also men) are undergoing surgeries in order to fit the image of "beauty"? What can media do to question clich├ęs reg. beauty images?
The world is getting younger looking. People live longer, forty is the new thirty, and men and women look much younger that they used to. I look younger than my mother when she was my age. Go through your family albums and you will see the same thing.
I truly think beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. If you think you are beautiful or feel comfortable with your weight I envy you, you are at peace with yourself. However, if you think you can do something to make you feel better about your appearance, do that too. I am not ashamed to say it is important for me to look young and lively.
At an age most women are already retired, I am still working a full-time job and am busy editing my new book. At an age some people store away their dreams, I made my own dream come true: I wrote a book that became a record breaking bestseller, the best selling book in Israel in the last decade. It has been translated to many languages as well. I don┬┤t live my life restricted by my age and therefore I don┬┤t want to be defined by it. I do not embrace my wrinkles, I use the marvels of cosmetics, and I dye my hair. I watch my weight: I do Pilates and take long walks on the beach of Tel-Aviv, I watch what I eat as well. These are my rules, what I believe in. But, everyone can live according to a different set of rules. Of course the media has a big influence on each and every one of us. It┬┤s a clich├ę, but it is also a truth that a very thin model is a fantasy of fashion designers who see her as a clothes hanger. I will not intervene with a personal choice to look however one chooses, but I will try to influence by bringing more options of average weight women or as people like to call them now: real women.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: I read you are working on a movie and a theatre piece about your novel. At what stage is it today and when will it be realized, what are the biggest challenges?
The theatre adaptation, a cooperation between me and one of the most important directors in Israel is in process, but we are both very busy people. He is directing a new musical, and I am at the final stages of editing my new book that hopefully will be published by the end of the year and so, I have decided to leave it for now. The movie is in pre-production and they will start shooting in July. I was involved in the script but eventually decided to let a professional script writer continue.
I have shortly learned that writing a play (or a movie script) is a profession all on its own, one that I need to learn. For now, I am focusing on writing books but maybe in the future I will write scripts and plays.
Sharon Adler, AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you very much and all the best for your work. We are looking forward to the movie of your Novel "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem" and happily will publish a review at AVIVA-Berlin!
About Sarit Yishai-Levi, a journalist and author, was born in Jerusalem in 1947 to a Sephardic family that has lived in the city for seven generations: She studied acting at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio and later at Tel Aviv University. Before turning to journalism, Yishai-Levi acted in theater and film for several years. Later, she was a correspondent for various Israeli newspapers and magazines, including HaOlam HaZeh, Hadashot, Monitin and At, and she also hosted TV and radio programs in Los Angeles in Hebrew.
The actress, moderator, journalist and correspondant was the first Israeli to interview Yasser Arafat.
Later she was the senior correspondent for the magazine Olam Ha┬┤Isha and hosted TV shows on tourism and lifestyle. Yishai-Levi has published four non-fiction books. Her first novel, "The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem", a bestseller in Israel which was 108 weeks on the bestseller-list, received the Publishers Association┬┤s Gold and Platinum Prizes (2014) and the Steimatzky Prize for best-selling book of the year (2014). It is now being made into a feature film.
Sarit Yishai-Levi lives in Tel Aviv.
"Fair enough? What is fair?" Panel with Sarit Yishai-Levi
Sunday, 15 April 2018, 12:00 pm (doors open at 11:00 am)
SOPHIENS├ćLE, Sophienstra├če 18, 10178 Berlin
Reading and discussion: Too much of a good thing?
Equal opportunity, gender and intergenerational equality ... it┬┤s all well and good. But how much equality are we really ready for?
With: Sarit Yishai-Levi - Fatma Aydemir
Moderator: Shelly Kupferberg
Mehr Infos: www.goethe.de/literaturtage und www.boell.de/literaturtage
Tickets ├╝ber: www.deutschestheater.de, Tel.: (030) 28441225 oder an der Abendkasse.
Read more about Sarit Yishai-Levi at AVIVA-Berlin:
Sarit Yishai-Levi. Die Sch├Ânheitsk├Ânigin von Jerusalem
In ihrem Deb├╝troman erz├Ąhlt die Schauspielerin und Journalistin die Geschichte einer seit Jahrhunderten in Jerusalem ans├Ąssigen sephardischen Familie. Besonders dem deutschen Publikum wird damit eine neue Perspektive auf diese besondere Stadt und seine fr├╝hen j├╝dischen Einwohner_innen er├Âffnet. (2016)
Photo of Sarit Yishai-Levi: Photographer Elad David, courtesy Of Olam Ha┬┤isha Magazine.