An Interview With Yael Katzir, Director Of ‘Praying In Her Own Voice’

1. Why did I choose to make the film

For many years I am dealing with topics that concern womens’ role in our society.
In 2000 I did a documentary on the role of women in the army – the sterotype Macho club.
To this film I came by chance when I dicovered a group of Jewish- Israeli women praying in the old city of Jerusalem in the ruins of a crusader church from the 13th Century.
It was so bizare that I decided to follow them. I started research and then started to film. I followed them for four years but the movie covers only two years.
I chose to make the film because I felt an urge almost an irresistable impulse to become the mouthpiece of this group in their struggle to have a voice and the right to read, the freedom to have knowledge. I am a secular jew, and yet I think that every citizen have the right to pray in his own voice and manner, even though I don’t pray at all. The dictatorship of the ultra orthodox in Israel is a threat to freedom. The fact that women are treated as second class citizens, this is what compelled me to do the film. 

2. Did I have a point of view – and did it change over time

I have a liberal democratic POV. Namely I believe in human rights and freedom of expression in every domain of life including religion.
My point of view did not change much but my viewing of reality received a twist of sadness as I shared with women of the wall the fact that they were defeated in the supreme court. I felt that this fight must go on as women are 50% of the population.

3. Differences in reaction in Israel and US 

In Israel, secular people ar shocked. They didn’t know how violent women can become to women.
The TV chanels did accept the film as it has a powerful criticism of what is going on in the wailing wall.
In America the issue is exteremly hot as most of the Jews belong to more liberal comunities and they don’t want to be excluded like the women of the wall from the right to pray at the Kotel.   

4.My obstacles

I had a number of obstacles: 
1. My husband didn’t think that this is an important topic
2. I didn’t get money from the Israeli film funds
3. Shooting was tough as there were many occasions when we were violently attacked by the  hate, screamings and fists of the ultra-Orthodox women.
4. The reactions to the movie that most surprise me were: those of young people in India. They understood and Identified with the women whose voice is repressed and their need to read from the Torah and have joy in their worship are rejected by man.
I believe  that in 2008 it is impossible to accept women as doctors, attorneys, judges, politicians, and have the same women banned to sit at the back of the bus. This is a disgrace to the future of Judaism. Women were present when Moses gave the Torah and they should be together with men to continue to be the carriers of it.

A FEW HOURS LATER, YAEL EMAILS:

Dear Luke, 

I probably was too tired when I have written to you last night. 

If this is OK allow me please to add a few points which I failed to include. 

The passage or journey that I went through was rather an eye opener. 

I did the film for the Israeli public and as a protest against the way women are treated. But in the course of doing the film I realized that there is also another issue and that is the question of who is a Jew and what is Judaism in  modern times. In the famous debate about identity what are we in Israel — Jewish first or Israeli first? My answer and unquestioned attitude was that I am a Jew first and an Israeli second. (My husband is Israeli first.)

When I did the film I felt that my long given answer to the question is not satisfactory. On the contrary, the Ultra Orthodox people curse me together with the women of the wall as being a goy or even worse, a person ruining Judaism.
So the film has created for me an opportunity to restructre my personal identity and deepen my conception of what is Judaism – or what it ought to be in the 21st century.

Yes I believe in the unity of the Jewish people. This is the one and only code word for survival (Kol Israel Arevim ze laze = all Israel are responsible each one for the other). In today’s world there must be space for all Jews and for a diversity of religious practice. Reading of the Torah depends on interpretations and traditions and as much as the Jews were dispersed among the nations and collected various traditions so it should be accepted that more than one custom will prevail. 

What happened in the course of the making of the film is that I realized that the film is not only for Israelis but also for the Diaspora Jews if we want to remain one people. My son Dan and Ravit suggested that I open the film and adjust it to the American Jewry and I did it (with all the resulting extra labor and cost that it required).

I hope that the screening of the film with the right echo here in the US will open the doors and more important the hearts of people in Israel to understand that there is more than one road to the gates of heaven. Moreover no one should forget the women were also present at Mount Sinai when the whole people of Israel was given the task to carry the Torah…

At the end of this journey I find myself not one of the Women of the Wall but an more ardent jew who wants to read his Torah and sing and pray to good with enthusiam although I am a woman!

I also must add that without the encouragement of my students, some of whom observers, I could have never brought the film to the finish line.

LUKE FORD EMAILS YAEL:

Do you feel any irony that you have become so passionate over these religious questions when you are not religious?

Do not the ultra-Orthodox have the right to control the Wall as they are the ones who daven the most and study the most Torah and observe Torah the most keenly?

Was there any proponent of the traditional perspective that you felt much sympathy for?

Yael responds:

Dear Luke,
The kotel belongs to all the jewish people and not to one group.
Even in the days of the 2ed temple the jews were not a solid state unit, and the temple was shared by all.
So I think that all the jews especially the majority of them should not be excluded. the ultra orthodox are a minority, and they should be tolerant to other jews. when Hitler sent people to the Gas chambers he didn’t ask them which synagogue they went to and many of those burt were not going to schule at all.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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