IN THE midst of the controversy over the Nation-State Law and the demotion of Arabic from official language status, Prof. Mona Khoury-Kassabri has been appointed dean of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work. She is the first Arab woman to be appointed dean at the Hebrew University, and may well be the only Arab woman to serve as dean at any university in Israel.
A Christian Arab, Khoury-Kassabri has made history in more ways than one. Not only is she the first female Arab dean at the university, but she was born to illiterate parents and raised in one of the poorest crimeand drug-infested neighborhoods in Haifa. Not every youngster there was a juvenile delinquent, and she wasn’t, either. More than that, she was born with ambition, a factor that took her beyond high school to an academic education and career, which together with other Arab women who have succeeded in academia, albeit not quite to the same extent, makes her a role model for other young Arab women who are striving to realize their potential and are aiming for new horizons.
ONE OF the most difficult things for newly observant Jewish women and those who have undergone Orthodox conversions to Judaism is that they can no longer sing in mixed gatherings. For those who were professional dancers or actresses, it’s even more difficult, because all that they strived for in their previous existence is going to waste. Well, that used to be the case, but it isn’t exactly so any more. All over the country, talented, religiously observant women who are exponents of the performing arts are getting together to form theater groups and to stage productions. Many of these women, including some born into religiously observant families, are extremely gifted, and their productions are of such a high standard that they are big box-office hits, even though it’s only other women who come to see them.
Now, in tandem with some of these productions, are revelations by some of the performers that they are descendants of converso families who left Spain in 1492. In Yiddish, there is an expression, “dos pintele Yid,” which translates as that miniscule dot of Jew and applies to people most distant from their spiritual heritage who unexpectedly do or say something that points to that iota of Jewish identity. This is a common thread not only among descendants of conversos, but among the hidden Jews of Eastern Europe, whose families, even if Jewish on both sides, hid this fact from their children, first during the Nazi occupation, and later under Communist rule.
Some of these people are aware of their Jewish genes, but other than curiosity, have no interest in being part of the Jewish people. Others somehow have a special need to belong. Among them is Ninoska Ravid, who was born in Honduras, was taken by her family to New York when she was six, and discovered her spirituality when she was 12 while studying Greek and Roman history at school and wondering how anyone could really believe in idols. Then she began to wonder what she believed in. It was a process that took time. She began reading books about different religions and always came back to Judaism. She was vaguely aware that she was Jewish but it was a subject not talked about in her family.
In certain parts of Latin America, people are still scared to be openly Jewish, she says. Even now, her mother is still frightened to admit to being Jewish. The last person in the family who was traditionally Jewish was Ravid’s great grandmother.
Nonetheless, despite the lack of religion in the household, there were certain customs that were practiced but never explained. Meat and milk were never eaten together, and before meat was cooked it was soaked and salted in a special dish, even though the meat itself was not kosher.
Ravid took her journey to Judaism without the involvement of her family.
She knew she had Jewish ancestry.
But only after she was already observant, did she discover that she not only had Jewish ancestors on both sides, but that she was actually Jewish halachically – according to Jewish religious law – and there was no need for her to convert. She was already observant when she met her Israeli husband in New York. She was under the naïve impression that nearly all Israeli Jews were observant, and was shocked to learn that her husband knew almost nothing about Judaism. Today, he too is observant and they have four children who were raised in an observant environment.
Ravid is executive producer and CEO of the Women in Theater, which goes by the appropriate acronym of WIT, is headquartered in Modi’in and was founded in 2008 by Pnina Fredman-Schechter, who has been directing professionally for more than 20 years, and Tamar Krantman-Weiss.
Ravid was one of the speakers this week at the OU Center in Jerusalem at an event hosted by the Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem in advance of their upcoming November production of Hidden, a musicale about the secret Jews of Spain based on the book The Family Aguilar by Marcus Lehman. In addition to presentations by Ravid and Hannah Finkel, a Mexican- born actress and descendant of secret Jews – who said she and her twin brother used to laugh at her grandmother whose Spanish was imperfect because it was actually Ladino – there was also a preview of the production with the Kolot Etzion Choir directed by Gayle Berman. Some of the women had extraordinarily fine voices, worthy of international concert stages. But women performing for women in many parts of country are attracting full houses, as was the case on this occasion. The enthusiastic applause said it all.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that the world belongs to the young.
That used to be the case when life spans were much shorter than they are now. But with increasing longevity and greater encouragement for senior citizens to remain active instead of vegetating, the world is being reclaimed by people of the third age. Veteran broadcaster and Israel Prize laureate Ya’akov Ahimeir celebrated his 80th birthday on July 21 and continues to host Seeing the World on Kan 11. Sometimes he appears as a panelist on the channel’s news and current affairs programs, can be heard on radio, and writes opinion pieces in the Hebrew press. But Ahimeir is far from being the oldest working journalist in Israel.
That honor belongs to Walter Bingham, 94, whose radio program Walter’s World can be heard on Arutz 7. Bingham, who walks without a cane, shows up at press conferences all over the place, and continues to walk at a relatively brisk pace.
He always manages to be where the action is. Former foreign minister and defense ministerMoshe Arens, 92, writes regular op-ed pieces in Haaretz, and among performing artists, actress Lea Koenig, 88, continues to appear in leading roles on stage and screen. Likewise, Rivka Michaeli, who recently turned 80, is currently appearing in a new television series aptly named It’s Never Too Late.
These are just a few examples of a growing trend in which retirement is becoming passé. Additionally, the long-held beliefs that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or that a leopard can’t change its spots, also bear re-thinking. Ahimeir, who was famous for his objectivity, but who was known to have right-of-center views, was nonetheless respected by his left-leaning colleagues, who he said in an interview with another veteran broadcaster, Shalom Kital, who still has a little way to go before he turns 80, that even though his colleagues were generally known as leftists, they were above all professionals.
When Kital commented on the fact that Ahimeir is no longer objective and makes his views public, Ahimeir conceded that times have changed, and said if all his colleagues could give expression to their political opinions, there was no reason for him to be any different.
AMONG THE guests at the opening last week of the “Freud of the Rings” exhibition at the Israel Museum, was Carol Siegel, the director of the Sigmund Freud Museum at 20 Maresfield Gardens in London’s Hampstead neighborhood. This was the house in which Freud lived when he escaped from Austria to England in the last year of his life.
His daughter, Anna, a noted psychoanalyst in her own right, continued to live there, and the house remained in the family until Anna Freud’s death in 1982, when it was turned into a museum by Freud devotees who continue to run it.
According to Siegel, it contains 2000 items that were in Freud’s home in Vienna. Curiously enough, practically nothing that belonged to Freud remains in the Freud Museum at 19 Berggasse in Vienna, which is where he lived before moving to England.
But visitors say one can feel his spirit in the house. Siegel said she was very pleased with the way in which the Freud exhibition had been curated in Jerusalem, and she was glad to have been able to cooperate by making exhibits available.
Several of the guests took advantage of the opportunity to also tour the stunning “Decoding Israeli Dress” exhibition, which is not only a tribute to Israeli creativity, but also provides proof that there are fashions which remain timeless, especially those of Finy Leitersdorf and Lola Beer Ebner, whose designs are as modern as tomorrow, even though the two are long dead.