Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Capturing a Council Member’s ‘Battle for Jerusalem’

December 14, 2012 1:57 am 0 comments

A postcard for Liz Nord's film, "Battle for Jerusalem." Photo: Courtesy Liz Nord.

JERUSALEM—Countless battles have been fought to capture her and claim her religious glory. Now, under Jewish sovereignty, a different battle is being waged in the Israeli capital—a battle for her soul, says Brooklyn-based filmmaker Liz Nord, creator of the forthcoming documentary Battle for Jerusalem.

In 2009, when Nord visited Jerusalem to begin shooting and identifying the sides in the city’s battle, she found herself captivated by the story of a young female city council member and the ultra-Orthodox forces in the municipality she was up against.

Rachel Azaria, 34, first elected in 2008 to the Jerusalem City Council, is a modern Orthodox mother of four and native Jerusalemite. She’s also one of the founders of Yerushalmim (“Jerusalemites”), a party made up of secular, progressive and Orthodox members supporting initiatives for families, young people and women. She has been at the center of some of the increasingly ultra-Orthodox city’s controversies over civil liberties and the role of women. Azaria has opposed gender segregation on public buses, separate sidewalks for men and women in haredi neighborhoods, and an Egged bus prohibition against women appearing in advertisements.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat dismissed Azaria from his coalition government in 2011 (though she remained on the city council), removing her portfolios for preschool education and community administration after she filed a complaint to the High Court of Justice protesting gender separation in the haredi neighborhood of Mea She’arim during Sukkot. After the High Court ruled in her favor, Barkat dismissed Azaria because, he said, city council members should not lodge complaints against the city.

In next fall’s Jerusalem elections, Azaria is vying to win more Yerushalmim seats and influence Barkat. With dark, curly hair and stylish dark pink glasses, she is articulate in Hebrew and English (her mother is American). Known around town for her outspokenness, Azaria is filmmaker Nord’s ideal protagonist in Jerusalem’s inner battle.

“I’m not modern Orthodox but I am a Jewish woman, and this idea of women being marginalized in a city that I feel is supposed to represent my people on a global scale was upsetting, and she’s there on the front lines,” Nord—who served as supervising producer on the 2008 Emmy-Award winning MTV elections show Choose or Lose, and whose film Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land has been screened across the globe—says in an interview with JNS.org. “She’s bold and articulate but also a real person that I think people around the world can relate to because she’s a mother trying to balance her values with her family life and professional life.”

Nord was first drawn to Azaria when she was elected in 2008, and interviewed her during her first filming trip. She decided to focus her project on Azaria’s fight to retain her city council seat in the upcoming election. She plans to return to Jerusalem when Azaria’s campaign is in full swing this winter, and next fall Nord will follow Azaria in the day-to-day operations of her campaign.

“The viewer is really seeing the events unfold,” she says. “That’s the intent.”

Nord suspects that Azaria, during her campaign, “will be the target of some ugly stuff, which I don’t wish on her but could make for interesting film.” After Barkat dismissed Azaria, a mainstream haredi website headlined with “A joyous holiday in Jerusalem: Barkat fires the provocateur.”

Haredi city councilmen condemned her petition, while one, Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism), called it a provocation. Some 11 of the 25 members of the current council are haredi men.

In an interview Nord conducted with her protagonist at the Limmud Baltimore conference last summer, Azaria says that as an Orthodox woman she never expected to be involved in gay rights and supporting the community’s right to hold a pride parade. But, she believes in fighting for everyone’s right to do what he or she believes in, haredim included.

“It was basically fight or flight,” Azaria says in the summer interview. “We either know where we’re going and we’re leaving or that we’re staying and we’re fighting. What’s been happening lately is that people in Jerusalem aren’t willing to give up anymore.”

Top issues in Azaria’s campaign include ensuring there are enough preschools in the capital, getting sanitation trucks to collect garbage at night, making sure train platforms provide shade and bike stands and improving playground equipment.

Battle for Jerusalem is only the beginning for Nord, who grew up in Fayetteville, a small town in upstate New York, and attended United Synagogue Youth (USY) events in high school. Ahead of the film’s release, Nord launched Jerusalem Unfiltered, an online collection of short interviews with activists, artists and change-makers she met on previous Israel visits, including hip hop band Hadag Nahash frontman Shanaan Streett, Shahar Fisher, a founder of the youth political party Awakening, and Einat Arif-Galanti, a photographer who helped found Agripas12, Jerusalem’s first cooperative gallery.

“The Jerusalem Unfiltered part of the project is really meant as an outreach and engagement [tool],” Nord says. “That is specifically tailored to people who may not be that interested as a way to show them the city through people on the street who they might be able to relate to.”

Eventually, Nord hopes to create a mobile app for users to watch these interviews condensed into one-minute micro-stories mapped to locations in Jerusalem, or watch them by topic (arts and culture, small business, etc.) on the site. The films will also be available for public screening.

Fisher takes Nord for a walk through downtown Jerusalem and talks about the city’s revitalization, its nightlife and why he won’t forsake the capital for Tel Aviv like so many of his peers do when they finish school at the capital’s Hebrew University or Bezalel art school. Streett, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, is the only member of Hadag Nahash who hasn’t moved to Tel Aviv. “Jerusalem offers the possibility to enjoy the differences between people,” he says, walking through the Mahane Yehuda shuk. “You feel life more in Jerusalem. There’s more real people.”

Arif-Galanti describes why she feels like an art crusader and how her gallery, situated near the shuk, draws in a diverse range of people, even haredim, who pass by.

“I was on my way to Tel Aviv. And I already had an apartment there,” she says in the interview. “And then on the last second I said, no, I’m staying in Jerusalem. And being here and opening a gallery here is a kind of a vision, something like a kibbutz.”

Nord describes her Jerusalem Unfiltered interview subjects as “young Jerusalemites who felt like they were really fighting.”

“It was their language,” she says. “They were and are fighting for the future of Jerusalem as a pluralistic democratic city. Some used the word soul—they’re fighting for the soul of the city. It’s a battle over who is going to set the future path of the city.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Food Jewish Identity Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    JNS.org – Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews — in particular, Israeli Jews — are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita. Freudians may find a psychoanalytic motive for the local appeal of the Israeli eateries popping up in the Austrian capital. Walk […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    The two bullet casings are already beginning to rust. Sheikh Nasser Pasha plucks them from the ground. “Look, one is from an AK-47, one from an American M-4.” The casings are strewn on the ground atop a long mound of dirt with a few bits of white sticks on it. It would appear unremarkable if one were walking by it. A closer look, however, reveals the white objects are pieces of human bone: arms, legs, and a single human skull. […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →