Photo by Michael Peake/Toronto Sun
Sue-Ann Levy doesn’t sound like the devil, which a 2012 headline in a Toronto publication, The Grid, suggested she might be.
In fact, the woman who picked up the phone to chat with the Forward’s Michael Kaminer has a sweet, chirpy voice and an endearingly cheery manner. But these qualities belie the Toronto Sun investigative columnist’s steel spine. An out lesbian and relentless advocate for Israel, Levy’s also a dogged reporter whose scoops on municipal corruption and cronyism have made her both an idol and a punching bag.
Detractors have pounced on her more outrageous actions, like her 2012 tweet implying Barack Obama may be Muslim. Enemies have called her “an Internet troll, but in real life.” But those jabs just seem to stoke her. “Either you love me or you hate me,” she told the Forward from the home she shares with her wife, interior designer Denise Alexander, and dachshunds Kishka and Flora.
When I read the story of Israeli women sending sexy photos off the to IDF to wish them luck and boost morale, my reaction was more of a bemused shake of the head than anything akin to the outrage, confusion, and energy-draining sorrow I’ve been experiencing while reading a lot of recent war-related stories.
The same can be said for my response to the tale of the observant women in New York who are campaigning for an Israeli victory by holding a modesty contest at home, convinced that immodesty brings bad events to brethren abroad. Good luck covering those elbows for your cause, ladies. As Talia Lavin writes, her tone laced with irony, “The way to “help our brothers in their time of need,” apparently, is to suppress every inch of skin their sisters possess.” She even suggests an Iron Dome over women’s flesh.
Sarah Seltzer with her twin brother as children.
I have a twin brother who, as a kid, frequently ran around outside with a ball and his friends — usually in New York’s parks. Woe to the teachers at our Jewish day school who denied them gym or recess: they acted up extra-rambunctiously when they were cooped up. One of the cardinal lessons of my childhood was this: If you don’t let kids run around, everyone suffers. So that, in part, explains why the boys on the beach in Gaza proved my breaking point — boys who had been shut in for over a week and just wanted to kick a ball around, for a blessed few hours, and feel the air.
Gender democracy activist Anat Thon-Ashkenazy holds a 1325 pin in support of the UN resolution to bring women leaders into negotiations.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.
Eman Mohammed with her daughters, Lateen and Talia
As a photojournalist, stepping into war isn’t a dilemma for me. It is my instinct to grab my cameras and run out to document the man-made misery, the horrors of war, each and every time hoping humanity will get the lesson.
But nothing prepared me to understand how to raise children in a war zone — not even having been a child in one myself.
I grew up in Gaza. When I was in school, I spent my days walking to and from class, avoiding the streets that were normally targeted by airstrikes. On my summer holiday, I stayed indoors for fear of meeting the same fate as the families who dared to visit the beach and were killed by missiles while they enjoyed their barbecue.
Deborah Meghnagi Bailey and her family
Here’s a scene from my life last week: It’s 9:30 pm. I’m lying on my bed, fully dressed, talking to my husband, who is ready for bed. We weren’t supposed to be here, tonight. We were supposed to be in the Galilee, in a beautiful cabin with its own private pool and Jacuzzi, with a massage chair in the bedroom and a hammock rocking gently in the garden outside. We escape there once a year, without the kids. It’s an oasis of calm and relaxation and peacefulness.
We’ve been looking forward to our getaway for a year. We were supposed to leave this morning. But last night, rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv. We live in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, and we haven’t been attacked yet, but there’s always the first time, so how can we leave our boys? What if it happens while we’re away? My mother-in-law is babysitting, and competent as she is, she’s never lived here through sirens, and how can one person get two kids to a shelter downstairs within 90 seconds, if they’re asleep when the siren goes off? We live in an older apartment, so we don’t have a secure room. The building’s shelter is not far, just eight steps down and across the hallway, but still.
There is little room in today’s news coverage for ten-year-old memories. The instant, the current, the now is what we want. We want to read about events as they happen, described by witnesses who are there, and as we read we scan the page hoping that the words aren’t all there is; we want video of whatever has exploded or broken or happened.
There is a lesser, but still respected, place for the legitimate past — childhood remembrances of times gone by, fading recollections of worlds lost. What’s in between is untouchable: too old to be relevant, but too new to have accumulated the patina of authenticity that real history requires.
And yet, as rockets rained down on southern Israel recently, I found myself in between. The town names that filled my Twitter feed and the images on TV brought me back exactly 10 years, to the months I spent in those same war-weary, war-expectant places.
Eilat, where I celebrated my 26th birthday exalting in unknown November warmth, was briefly thought to be a target four days after my 36th birthday, but it turned out the resort town had been spared.
To protect has always seemed to me to be the first duty of the parent. Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my husband and three young children, I knew what it was I wanted to shield my children from: violence, fear, social disorder so profound that it would unsettle their very sense of safety in the world.
Last year, when I began to volunteer in an inner-city school in Detroit, my challenge was not to explain to my own children the violence the Detroit kids faced on a daily basis — that did not even occur to me to discuss; it was way too scary. Instead, I had to confront the unbearable injustice of limited opportunity, as well as the effects of an inheritance of racism. It was painful to me to talk with my eight-year-old daughter about the fact that the Civil Rights movement, which she had studied, had left some problems unsolved. “Til today?,” she asked, in disbelief.
In late August, my husband, Ori, and I took our children to Israel, where we planned to spend a sabbatical year. Both of us had lived there previously, Ori for eight years, serving a full-term in the army in the early 1990s, and myself for two years in the same era, with many summers spent in Israel since. I was also born in Israel to American parents who lived here at the time, and my grandparents and paternal aunt and her family all made their lives here. My children have all visited before, too. They speak and understand Hebrew to varying degrees, and when we were still living in Ann Arbor, they attended schools that were replete with Israel-activities and study.
Amid all the Facebook posts about the heart-rending violence taking place at this moment in Israel and Gaza, this photo of a bomb shelter door in Ashdod leapt out. It says that the bomb shelter is only for men and boys.
We don’t know if there is a separate shelter right next to this one, designated for women and girls. Nevertheless, it is gender segregation at its most outrageous.
It reflects how deeply the notion that men and women must be separated at all costs has taken hold — even in life-threatening situations, such as when the sirens sound the alert that rockets are falling.
There may be a women and girls’ shelter next door. There may not be. My Hebrew isn’t good enough to be able to read all of comments this photo has sparked on Facebook, some of which might shed light on the question, and Bing does a lousy job of translating them.
But even if there is, what if going to the female-only bomb shelter requires women and girls to take a few more steps than if they were allowed in this one? What if that puts them in harms way?
Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, is currently covering Operation Pillar of Defense from inside Gaza. Rudoren, who was appointed to her post in May of this year and who had previously reported on presidential campaigns, education and the Midwest for the Times, is covering a war for the first time in her career.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities, Rudoren left her husband and five-year-old twins at home in Jerusalem and headed to Gaza, arriving there Thursday late afternoon. Despite “spotty Internet,” as she put it, Rudoren was able to communicate with The Sisterhood by email from Gaza on Friday evening.
Here is what she shared about being a female reporter among other women war correspondents, what she has seen so far, and juggling being a mother and a bureau chief on the front lines.
With the advent of the conflict in Gaza, known by the hashtags #gazaunderattack or #pillarofdefense, it’s a surreal moment to be a citizen of this earth.
For perhaps the first time on this scale, a war is being waged both in real life and on Twitter simultaneously.
As rockets and bombs fall, as children lie wounded or dead, and as people rush into bomb shelters, the IDF Spokesman account and the military wing of Hamas have been duking it out on the interwebs, even garnering the IDF a suspension from Twitter for issuing “threats of violence.”
Buzzfeed writes that the IDF is winning the Twitter war, but in my mind, the callousness of these tweets and actions on both sides precludes any winners.
We’ve become used to the gender roles in conventional war. The brave male soldiers march off to the battlefield, the women and children remain back at home, protected in their domestic routines. Or, in the alternative scenario, when the horror of war comes to civilian neighborhoods, life grinds to a halt, and the family huddles together for safety, fathers and mothers joining together to protect their children.
But this week, as the back-and-forth volleys between Israel and terror elements in Gaza stretched past the Purim holiday and the weekend into the work week, affecting more than a million citizens in southern Israel, there is a different reality. It is so different that Israel’s Homefront Command has coined a new term: “Emergency Routine” — a middle ground between a “State of Emergency” and business as usual.
In this so-called emergency routine situation, work goes on as usual – because the state doesn’t want the local economy to grind to a halt. However school is cancelled, because, even if a school is built with missile-proof materials, nobody wants to see a direct hit on a school full of children, and children are vulnerable as they walk or ride the bus to school. And so the question being asked in households across southern Israel, is ‘who’s going to stay home with the kids?’
“If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss,” wrote Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gazan obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in infertility following the killing of three of his daughters and a niece by an IDF tank shell that hit his family’s home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the final days of Operation Cast Lead in 2009. The tragic incident took place while Abuelaish was reporting live from Gaza by telephone for an Israeli news broadcast.
Despite knowing that his daughters have not been and will not be the last sacrifice, Abuelaish has nonetheless been able to forge ahead on that road better than most. “Urged on by the spirits of those he lost, his belief in medicine and his deep faith in Islam, Abuelaish offers practical ways of bridging the gaps between two peoples he believes have more similarities than differences,” wrote Canadian author Jonathan Garfinkel in his review of the doctor’s book, “I Shall Not Hate,” in The Globe and Mail last year.
One major way in which Abuelaish, 57, is bridging the gaps and working toward a more peaceful Middle East is through his Daughters for Life Foundation, which he has established in memory of his late daughters. This year the foundation is distributing its inaugural set of awards, 35 of them at 10 universities in Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Israel, the awards will go to students at Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University, where the first three awards were presented earlier this month.
In Gaza, where it is illegal under Sharia law for women even to ride bicycles, four young girls are boldly learning to surf. With the help of the American non-profit organization, Explore Corps, they are riding the waves and gaining a measure of freedom, confidence and independence.
This past summer, Rawan Abo Ghanem, 12, and her sister Kholoud, 10, together with their cousins Shorouq, 12, and Sabah, 10, mastered the basics of surfing under the tutelage of Matthew Olsen, executive director of Explore Corps. The organization, which brings together educators, expeditionary leaders, international development and political consultants to promote outdoor education programs, was founded in 2007. According to Olsen, the non-profit runs primarily on volunteer power, and its tiny budget is covered by private donors from the United States and Europe.
Explore Corps, together with the Surfing 4 Peace initiative started by Jewish surfing legend Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, Israeli surfing industry professional Arthur Rashkovan, Doc’s son David Paskowitz and surfing champion Kelly Slater, has been supporting and equipping the fledgling Gaza Surf Club. It was only last August, post-Flotilla incident, that most of the surfing equipment was allowed into Gaza by the Israeli authorities.