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Kids' wars: Bullying, now and then

“She’s stupid and ugly!” shouted one of my third graders in an outburst of rage and tears. She sat hunched over, fuming, pointing her back directly at another of my students who had wronged her in some mysterious way I didn’t manage to understand.

“Shut your face!” retorted the supposed perpetrator.

In these moments, which happen about once every other class, I remember that childhood can really suck sometimes.

Being the responsible adult in the room, I want to help diffuse this tension that has engulfed two of my students. I tell them that those comments are unacceptable, that they are part of a dance community that doesn’t tolerate that kind of behavior, that they are supposed to support one another. I want to think that my words will steer them towards a kinder, gentler interaction but within seconds, I see that they don’t. From my own experiences as a kid, I know that these wars are fought by the kids themselves and any attempt to soothe will most likely be brushed off, forgotten, as both sides search their minds for more powerful ammunition. Without making an extreme gesture, I have little hope of sorting out the aggression between these two girls.

With kids, it’s easy to assume that the fights are a passing phase and that they hold no real emotional water. But, ask any adult and they’ll probably be able to remember being on one side or another of the bullying coin.

At their age, I was the victim of a very mean, manipulative bully. She, along with her two lackeys, one of whom was my ex-best friend, made a point of ruining my life for three whole years. They excluded me, spread rumors behind my back and dumped the contents of my desk three times a week, along with many other hideous things that kids do to each other. Years later I realized that her torment didn’t stay locked in the hallways of my grade school. It followed me through life, haunting me like a monster in the closet.

Bullying is a very hot topic right now. Around the world, a handful of tragic suicides have brought the dangers of bullying into the forefront of the educational system’s attention. Luckily for me, at the time that I was bullied, there was no online expression for the harassment. My predators used the telephone to torment me after school...

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Knesset passes draft law to criminalize paying for sex

Spearheaded by Kadima Cabinet member Orit Zuaretz, a draft law was recently passed making the solicitation of a sexual act a criminal offense. First brought to the table in 2009, this law received its first green light on the path to becoming official.

Under this law, first time offenders will be sent to an educational program while second time offenders can be sentenced to up to six months for visiting prostitutes. This law follows the ‘Nordic model’, which was pioneered in Sweden and has since been adopted by many European countries.

Until now, prostitution has been legal in Israel; however, the de facto practice surrounding this issue is very complicated. The Hotline For Migrant Workers released a publication entitled The Legalization of Prostitution: Myth and Reality that was very helpful in my quest to understand the law on this matter.

It reads:

In reality, several “tolerance zones” for prostitution exist around the country. In these regions, which are usually poor areas on the outskirts of major cities, the police turn a blind eye to the sex industry. In this way, both the legal and illegal sides of the business go unnoticed or intentionally ignored.

If this law is passed by the Knesset, the entire industry, which brings in an estimated revenue of NIS 2 billion a year, will be further pushed into the gutter of society. Though the law does not officially criminalize the act of selling oneself, it places the consumer outside of the law. Thus, the government’s direct target is not the prostitute but the clients. However, prostitutes will nonetheless be the ones most dramatically affected by the legislation.

Ever since I caught wind of the new law being put into motion in Israel concerning prostitution, my mind has been ablaze with questions. As someone who has not followed prostitution laws before, I have been sent adrift in a labyrinth of opinions since taking interest in the matter.

The more time I spend with this topic, the more nuanced it becomes for me. First of all, I ask myself: what is the goal of this law?

Is the goal to protect women? To stop them from being forced into compromising situations associated with sex work?

Is the aim to stop men from paying for sex and force them to find more creative solutions for their desires?

Do Zuaretz and her supporters believe that this law will bring about the end...

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The locomotion commotion: Israel Railways strikes again

Lately, I have become sickeningly addicted to playing Monopoly. I don’t know what form of capitalist virus has invaded my brain but it has made me feverish for the game. (The iPad application is pretty impressive, I should add). Over the course of more than a handful of tackles with the computer player, I have developed a foolproof tactic. Control the railways and you win. Let them go to your opponent and you’re toast.

Looking at this morning’s brand new train strike, it occurs to me that the managers of Israel Railways feel the same way. If I had a nickel for every time the train stopped running, I’d have a whole bunch of nickels. In fact, the rail has recently trumped Car2Go as the most complained about form of transportation in my life.

This morning, like many mornings since I began working outside of Tel Aviv, I woke up to the familiar panicky feeling of a potential train strike. Kind of like the promise of a snow day but not at all fun or pretty. Despite a court order to keep the trains on their tracks, the worker’s committee has decided to stand their ground.

I, unlike many Israelis, depend on the train only twice a week. I ride from central Tel Aviv to Hod Hasharon and back in the afternoon to teach about one hundred girls how to dance. And somehow, I’m sure this is just paranoia, it seems that the angry train employees strike only on the days that I need to get to work.

It would be one thing if there were another option. But there just isn’t. The bus takes over an hour once it arrives, which means with waiting time close to two hours. And a taxi one-way costs about a quarter of what I earn. It also seems that the public is expected to just deal with the inconvenience. No compensation is offered to customers who find themselves unexpectedly without a mode of transportation. Even those who purchased monthly passes are hung out to dry.

With all of the commotion, the locomotion has become a kind of flighty boyfriend. You like him, but you can’t count on him to call. What should be a staple of every day life in this county has been demoted to a fair-weather trinket, a bonus service on lucky days.

No one will deny that the Israel...

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Min. of Culture urges Tzavta Theater to ban Mohammad Bakri

In response to Desmond Tutu’s call on the Capetown Opera Company to cancel their 2010 tour in Israel, director Michael Williams said, “arts and academics are never the right place to boycott.”

These words jumped into my mind this week as I read of the organization Im Tirzu’s demonstrations against actor and director Mohammad Bakri, and the urging of Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat to ban Bakri from Israeli stages.

At present, Bakri is in rehearsals for an interpretation of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s 1936 play, The House of Bernarda Alba, which will run at Tzavta Theater. The participants in this production are Bakri’s theater students from the Academy of Performing Arts in Tel Aviv.

Since 2003, when Bakri released his film Jenin, Jenin, harsh criticism of the Palestinian artist has lurked around every corner. The film was about the events that took place during the 2002 clashes between the IDF and residents of the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

Time and again, Bakri has been questioned about his film Jenin, Jenin. The Supreme Court of Israel ruled that Bakri broke no laws in the creation of this controversial piece. And yet, for the past eight years, Bakri has been all but blacklisted in Israel.

“We are the people of Israel,” shouted the director and spokesperson for Im Tirzu during a televised interview. “And the people of Israel are tired of letting terrorists perform on Tzavta’s stage.” The organization is an extra-parliamentary movement dedicated to strengthening Zionist values in Israel. Among their many activities, Im Tirzu’s members have been known to spy on university professors who they suspect of subversion.

There is no controversy surrounding Bakri’s talent as a performer. And though his work in the past has been directly connected to the political situation in Israel, this play is not.

Tzavta is a government-funded theater, and Livnat and Im Tirzu thus believe that it is not an appropriate venue for Bakri’s work. It should be noted that The House of Bernarda Alba is not a Tzavta production, but rather that of an outside entity that is being hosted by the theater.

“You can’t interfere with art,” said Yankale Mandel, founder and director of the Israeli Union for Performing Arts, in response to Livnat’s statement, which essentially left the decision whether or not to give Bakri the boot to the directors of Tzavta.

As far as I am concerned,...

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Love letter to dance: Eyal reveals genius in 'House' and 'Bill'

Black clothes? Nude clothes?

In the program notes for Sharon Eyal and Guy Behar’s House, which recently premiered together with Yasmeen Godder’s The Toxic Exotic Disappearing Act, there were two costume categories listed. Designer of black clothes…so and so. Designer of nude clothes…somebody else. I took a moment to consider the amount of detail put into what is often a peripheral bit of information. And then the lights went up.

On stage was Sharon Eyal, dressed as the missing member of The Matrix, illuminated by the foggiest, most alluring light I’ve seen in ages.

House was, in my eyes, a love letter to dance. It was sexy, naughty, dirty, suggestive and delicious. The nearly nude dancers, each one fiercer than the next, moved like they had been sprinkled with magic powder. The work was built with group sections and interludes during which Eyal snaked across the stage like some kind of glorious fembot.

I have to admit, while I liked Eyal’s previous works for Batsheva Dance Company (Marakova Kabisa and Bertolina), I never really got them. They were neat, sure. You couldn’t deny that there was something very edgy and new about Eyal’s pieces. I loved the electronic music. I loved the risky feeling I got sitting in the audience. As if Eyal was leading me into some shady back alley of the dance world that I wasn’t sure I should be allowed to visit. There is something truly voyeuristic about watching her pieces. Like glancing through a keyhole at the girl next door while she changes. But with all that said, I didn’t recognize the real genius of Eyal until it hit me in the face while watching House.



The piece was deeply atmospheric. And at the same time, it read like a kind of homage to American modern dance from the 1960s. In this work, Eyal employed compositional tactics used by choreographers whose work looks like the Teletubbies next to hers. The clean lines, shifting formations and dynamics let me see dance as I want it to be, know it should be and don’t get to see enough. The pure joy of watching bodies moving in space was aloft in the audience on that night at Suzanne Dellal.

Sadly, House won’t be shown again in Israel until early May. However, Eyal’s previous work, Bill, goes up for an additional run in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night. Bill is a...

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Film on occupation's court system wins big at Sundance

Just a few hours ago, director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz was inducted into Israel’s cinematic Hall of Fame. His film The Law In These Parts won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Earlier this year, Alexandrowicz picked up the award for best documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

The film is a critical investigation of the IDF’s court system governing Palestinians. Through interviews with the judges that engineered and implemented the complicated web of military laws currently in place, Alexandrowicz asks many crucial questions about the occupation.




“This is the hardest film I’ve made,” said Alexandrowicz shortly after the awards ceremony. “This is an amazing moment for me as a filmmaker, but it’s a film about a painful and unresolved subject. What you find out in the film, and in other films in this festival, is that upholding law doesn’t always lead to justice. It can even be used as a tool against certain segments of society. We have to oppose them, and if necessary we have to break them.”

Celebrating an equally exciting win at Sundance was director Emad Burnat for his film 5 Broken Cameras. The film was a joint Palestinian, Israeli and French production. “I can’t believe I’m standing here,” said Burnat. “This film was a gift from the beginning. It was a gift for me to go to this village building where I spent many years.”




Read also:
New film tackles military justice system in the West Bank

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Dance film 'Pina' nominated for an Oscar

I love a film that leaves a lasting impression. Maybe it’s because I love 3-D, maybe it’s because I’m a dancer, maybe it’s because it was so special, probably all of the above, that Wim Wenders’ Pina got lodged in my cerebrum. Not only was the film a gorgeous tribute to the legendary and recently departed choreographer, it was a love letter to all the brilliant artists that placed their creativity in her hands.

Today, the 2012 Academy Award nominations were released and among them, the contenders for Best Documentary Feature, of which Pina is one. The film was originally submitted to the Foreign Language Film category but was not accepted. Both director Wim Wenders and producer Gian-Pero Ringel stand to win Oscars for Pina.

I have written about the experience of viewing Pina before. For me, it was a revelation. The crowded theater, the sighs of wonderment from the audience and the teary faces on the way out were a sight to behold. It was a film, yes, but it was also the ultimate dance performance. His shots of Pina’s The Rite Of Spring will stay with me forever. Wenders succeeded in providing, at once, the perfect vantage points for a dance production. One second we were right next to the dancers, able to see the sweat on their faces and the material of their costumes. The next moment we saw the stage from afar, the surging, convulsing mass of performers moving as one.

Prior to seeing the film, I had no idea the great affinity the Israeli audience harbors for Pina. Night after night, the film was sold out. Friends of mine who had never expressed interest in dance suddenly couldn’t stop talking about the intensity of the film, of Pina’s choreography. It was clear that there had been a lot of people who were touched by Pina Bausch. Though she was an enigmatic person in real life, Pina managed to deeply move people with her work, as far as Tel Aviv.

The greatest success of the film is the continuation of this feeling. I have never set foot in Wuppertal, where Pina worked for her entire career as a choreographer, and yet I now have a sense of what it was like to spend time in her studio.

In making the film, Wenders asked each dancer to present their favorite section that they danced in Pina’s work....

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On art: Thank You Mr. Kiefer

Last weekend, my core homies and I paid a visit to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Though one of our gang was drawn by the German Expressionist exhibit, I felt compelled to make a beeline straight to Anselm Kiefer’s Shevirat Hekelim, Breaking of the Vessels. I had never seen Kiefer’s work in person before and knew only the littlest bit about his previous exhibitions.

Now comes the hard part… how do I convey, in words, the feeling of standing in that space? How can I begin to speak about art?

The catch is that the speechless feeling is what I didn’t know I wanted to get out of the experience. With dance performances, of which I see a whole lot, there is always something to say. Because of my knowledge of the form, I almost never feel that I am rendered without comment. With paintings, especially enormous, overwhelming ones like the ones in Kiefer’s show; it is much harder for me to find words to remark with. And yet, I have to say something about this experience.

A teacher and brilliant choreographer I encountered last summer said that the most wonderful thing we can hope for with our art is to put the audience or spectator into a state where they want to speak about the piece but have no words. They then are forced to find new ways of talking, new combinations of phrases, new sentence structures.

Until that day, I didn’t fully understand the concept.

I stood there, in the basement of the new wing of the museum, in a huge, white, air-conditioned, cavernous room and was swept off of my feet. The vertigo that took hold of me was a completely new sensation. The depth of those paintings, the colors, the strange familiarity of the images lifted me out of my regular Tel Aviv afternoon into a state of disoriented wonderment.

This is my public thank you note to Mr. Kiefer. I am happy to live in a world with your work.

Anselm Kiefer’s exhibit is open at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art through April 2012. For more information, visit

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Dance may be Israel's top export, but dancers can't make ends meet

In a recent conversation following a rehearsal for an upcoming show, the idea of fair pay came up for the fiftieth time this week. As a modern dancer I am sorely underpaid. The choreographers I work with are sorely under-supported. The well from which we draw our daily bread is dry in this country and in many others. There are the rumors of monthly artist stipends for freelancers in Europe but I am bent on believing that these are an urban legend if not complete lies. Okay, actually it’s true that my peers in Belgium tear open fresh envelopes with checks from the benevolent Belgian government each month. But for the rest of us, who don’t eat waffles and fine chocolate on a daily basis, making ends meet as a freelance artist is flippin’ hard.

Each time I think about the amount I am paid for an hour of rehearsal (30 shekels at best) I feel flustered and frustrated. I have worked for 12 years in the field and spent an additional 15 years training before that. And yet I am paid less than a secretary. My work is physically, emotionally and creatively demanding and I deserve to earn a fair salary. In order to keep myself in proper shape, I have to take dance classes, which cost money, let alone paying for physiotherapy appointments that cost 250 shekels for between 20 and 25 minutes. These extracurricular activities are essential to the performance quality I bring to the stage and they all but drain the little money I do make for rehearsals. Considering the upkeep of a dance career, I resolve to demand fair payment.

And then I always come to the same point. Will the difference between the 30 shekels I currently make and the 45 shekels recommended by the Israeli Union For Performing Artists for dancers of my status really make a difference? Emotionally, yes, but realistically, it won’t be a significant enough jump to erase the need for supplementary income. So, do I demand fair pay from the artists I work with who can’t pay their own rent because the money they earn teaching goes into my paycheck or do I swallow those 15 shiny shekels and keep my head down?

Yesterday I came across this letter, written by a dancer who chose to cause an uproar by exposing the demands of famed artist Marina...

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Religious entitlement: Woman takes a stand where the state won't

They are comparing her to Rosa Parks, the courageous woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus in 1955. She says she didn’t mean to take a stand but couldn’t back down when faced with a terrifying and unbelievably sexist situation.

On Friday morning, in what continues to be a chain of disturbing events connected to our country’s relationship with religion and public transport, Tanya Rosenblit was all but chucked out of her seat by a pack of angry religious men. “This is our line,” they said, in attempts to justify why Rosenblit should move to the bench at the back of the bus – otherwise known as the “women’s section.”

While the entire story makes my lunch rise to my throat, that line alone is worth pausing over. “Our bus line,” they said. Meaning that Rosenblit, who was appropriately dressed and seated near the driver so that he would be able to tell her when she had reached her stop, should obey their rules. It was an Egged bus that runs between Ashdod and Jerusalem, and a line frequented by both religious and secular passengers. Last time I checked, public transportation belonged to the public, not one sect or another.

In response to similarly uncomfortable situations, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled in January of 2011 that it is illegal to enforce gender segregation on public buses. However, if the buses are clearly marked as segregated so that the passengers may choose whether or not to ride them, the segregation is considered voluntary and thus passable. In short, the driver or bus line can’t officially enforce the segregation. They can just suggest it.

As the situation escalated, both the driver and the police officers called in to mediate the altercation urged Rosenblit to move. And here I find the catch in the high court’s ruling. The place where they completely miss the point. It is enough that a certain sector of the population feels completely entitled to get its way and to marginalizing women, or anyone else for that matter. Beyond that, there doesn’t need to be an official mandate that women must sit at the back of the bus. These men were happy to hold up the bus, to yell and make violent gestures at Rosenblit. In fact, the most dangerous situations often arise from this kind of cowboy, do-it-yourself law....

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Either Or: Heads or tails

Is it better to be the best of the worst, or the worst of the best?

For those of you who didn’t grow up going to Hashomer Hatzair North America or didn’t come across the game Either Or in another setting, this is how it goes: I present two options, you choose one. Kind of like a reader poll.

There is a famous saying in Hebrew that I can never really remember. Something about it’s better to be the tail of something than the head of something else. Basically it means that it’s better to be the worst of the best than the best of the worst.

I have been debating this notion for the past several weeks as I recently moved out of the intermediate French level into the advanced one at La Bagnoire Des Lettres Francaises in Neve Tzedek.

I loved my former classmates and the flow of the lessons. But in the interest of giving myself an extra kick in the behind, I decided to try out the next level. They are really really good. Most of them have lived in France or Belgium. They all know which arrondissement in Paris is the coolest and what metro stop is closest to one or another amazing restaurant. In short, the little confidence I once had has been eaten alive by my new possé of French friends.

I know from my experience with Hebrew learning that confidence is a big component in cutting one’s teeth on a new language. Without it, it’s hard to even ask where the bathroom is. However, being the worst means there is only one direction to go, up. It is also inspiring to spend time around people who speak as I hope to one day speak (one day in like ten years).

So, the sentence about heads or tails… is it better to be the head of something little and friendly or the tail of something big and strong?

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Footloose in Jerusalem: Hear no evil, see no evil

The dancers of a Jerusalem-based company are organizing a protest against a policy designed to shield the eyes of passersby who would rather pretend they don’t exist

Three years ago, I worked for the Kolben Dance Company, whose base is in the Gerard Bechar Center in Jerusalem. Today and tomorrow, joined by a group of supporters, the dancers of this company will protest the enforcement of a closed curtain policy in the studio. Their plan is to strip down the curtains, which the director of the center ordered be closed during workings hours, and perform outside of their studio. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke out, saying that he was never consulted on the matter of the closed curtains.

Gerard Bechar is in a neighborhood populated by both secular and religious people. The company is funded in part by the government. One wall of the studio faces the piazza of the center, letting in light and occasionally attracting a few spectators. Aside from wearing ratty sweat pants and coming into physical contact with one another, the dancers of this company do nothing provocative or unseemly. However, the pack of religious men who regularly patrol the Gerard Bechar Center have a bone to pick with the company.

When I worked there, these men used to bash on the windows if the curtains were even one foot away from being closed – meaning that a passerby could see our feet. They were bare feet usually, but feet nonetheless. It was terrifying. In the middle of a workday, we would all of a sudden hear booming noises, as if the glass was about to smash. It was bad enough that there was no natural light in the studio. There were also campaigns to destroy all posters of the company, as they presented women in immodest clothing. And several times during my stay in the troupe, the windows and outside walls were graffitied by locals. There was never any proof of who did it but the overall message was clear. Not welcome!

Knowing that the fact of our existence as dancers was somehow offensive to these people and that they had no problem to demonstrate that sentiment in various aggressive and violent ways was awful. Last time I checked, dancing was not a crime. Will Jerusalem allow its religious population to push the city back into the Footloose era?

UPDATE: This post initially termed the...

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Dear Baryshnikov, do you love us, do you? Do you?

Yesterday morning, me and about 40 other journalists packed into the Yaron Yerushalmi Theater at the Suzanne Dellal Center. Naturally, the writers and photographers bickered over who was blocking whose sightline. Everyone wanted to get as good a look as possible at the stage. It was as if Elvis was about to walk in. At least for me it was. And then, without too much fuss, Mikhail Baryshnikov popped onto the stage, flanked by famed director Dmitry Krymov, CEO of Suzanne Dellal Yair Vardi and a Russian/Hebrew translator. Tomorrow night, Baryshnikov will take the stage at the downtown dance center for the first of eight performances. The catch is that the legendary dancer is here as an actor in Krymov’s interpretation of Ivan Bunin’s 12-page story In Paris, not to do pirhouettes and jumps.

I was stuck somewhere between the 19-year-old reporter from I-don’t-know-where, who was making eyes at Baryshnikov, and Israel’s entire staff of Russian journalists. The performances will be delivered in Russian with Hebrew subtitles, a decision made by Krymov to maintain authenticity. The session opened with questions from the crowd, as Krymov preferred to let the play speak for itself.

It began with some simple questions about the show, which tells the tale of two Russian immigrants who meet in post-war Paris and fall in love. Is the overall theme nostalgia? Does it connect to the super nostalgic ballet Baryshnikov performed during his visit two years ago? How did Krymov manage to turn 12 pages into 90 minutes?

And then, without skipping a beat, the crowd did away with the trivial matter of the performance and hit Baryshnikov with a spray of questions about his thoughts on Israel, our women, politics, cities and dance scene.

It began sweetly, with the pretty, young representative of IDF Radio, clad in her green uniform, asking the question we all knew was going to be asked. “Were you pressured not to come here?” she called out from the side of the auditorium. A stifled giggle went through the room. It had to be asked, I guess. At least, it was asked two years ago at Baryshnikov’s last press conference. “No” he answered.

But then the obsessive need to hear positive feedback about the country prevailed. On and on the journalists asked Baryshnikov if he likes it here, how long he’ll stay, does he like Jerusalem, will he come back, are the...

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