Originally published in German in Missy Magazine (Germany), August 31, 2009, by Sebastian Ingenhoff, photos by Roland Wilhelm. Click here to download the original article in German. (Visit Missy Magazine's official site).
Translated by Noa Stemmer-Holtz
A feminist scene in Jerusalem? This hardly exists. Apart from Hadass S. Ben-Ari and her Zionist Riot Grrrl Fanzine.
The Zion square is considered the center of events in modern Jerusalem. Situated here is Uganda, a record shop with an integrated cafe, where you can relax, spend the afternoon, eat the best Humus in town and listen to music. On a bookshelf, local fanzines are on display.
Hadass S. Ben-Ari has also brought a few journals that she wants to offer for sale. The diminutive twenty-six year old manages from Jerusalem the feminist fanzine Fallopian Falafel. You can rarely meet her at the Uganda, because this record shop specializes in experimental electronic music; not so much her cup of tea. Hadass sits next to the window, sipping some water. She has black curls, wears a Heavy Metal-shirt and talks so quietly that it is quite difficult to understand her over the music. “The feminist scene in Jerusalem is small,” she says, “so small that you could say: almost non-existent.” In Tel Aviv there are a few bands and fanzines, but in the Holy City she is exclusive with her Fallopian Falafel.
Hadass’ parents come from Morocco, but they are Jewish. She was born in Israel before she moved to Canada at the age of eight. Fifteen years later a coincidence brought her back to Jerusalem. She experienced a positive cultural shock, fell in love with the city and decided to stay. After having completed her journalism studies, she now works in a soup kitchen, distributing food for deserving poor and homeless people. She does not feel like working for one of those glossy magazines that are, at the moment, dropping like flies. She is however not earning any money with Fallopian Falafel, but “instead I can write about topics that are important to me and I do not have to curry favor with anyone. I would simply not have such freedom as an employee in a magazine or a daily newspaper.” Fallopian Falafel is a do-it-yourself magazine that is published every few months. The website praises it as the “first and only Jerusalem-based fanzine bringing Riot Grrrl culture to the Holy Land.” So far nine editions have been published. Readers can download it for free on the website or order it from Hadass by mail for a small fee. The topics range from pregnancy and abortion – the focus of the current issue – over homosexuality and religion to feminism and the mentioned Riot Grrrls.
The Riot Grrrl-movement developed at the beginning of the 90’s in the USA out of the ruins of Grunge. Female punk bands such as Bikini Kill, Team Dresch or Sleater Kinney roughed up the male dominated punk and hardcore scene back then with their own bands. Around them developed a lively, do-it-yourself based scene, whose body of thought was spread by fanzines, such as the legendary Riot Grrrl which brought the movement its name.
Back then Hadass was still young and listening to Michael Jackson. At a certain point however, she started to get into heavy metal and punk and on this way she also discovered the music of the Riot Grrrls. Hadass eats kosher, fasts on Yom Kippur and defines herself both as a Jewish Zionist as well as a left feminist. She believes in God, but primarily in herself. The fixed rules of the ultra-orthodox Jews are, for her, just as suspicious as the nihilist melee of many punk bands. She wears a pentagram around her neck, a pentagonal star as a symbol of connection with the mystic Jewish figure Lilith.
Lilith was actually the first Riot Grrrl, a kind of an antihero to the biblical Eve. According to the legend, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but she was not just made out of his rib but she was rather put by God on the man’s side with equal value. When Lilith beyond that denied being a sexual slave to him, she was sent from paradise directly to the desert. From then on the rumor was spread that she would ally with demons, sneak around houses and steal people’s children from their cribs. In order to protect themselves from her, people hung up pentagrams on their doors. But it didn’t help. On the contrary, according to a witch saga Lilith felt rather attracted by this pentagonal star.
This then explains the pentagram around Hadass’ neck. And it’s of course also because she is a heavy metal fan. By the way, the pentagram is also a symbol of Islam (seen mostly in green) and can be found, for example, on the Moroccan flag. The Star of David, the symbol of Judaism, looks the same only at first sight. With a closer look you see that it has six points, the twelve corners symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Hadass fights vehemently against the habit of demonizing religions per se. “All religions have something magical about them in one way or another. It is absurd to believe in something that you cannot see. But it is simply part of human nature to be absurd,” she says very existentialistically. She stands for a progressive Judaism that fights against misogyny and homophobia in all its manifestations and that also accepts feminist readings. For those reasons it is essential to her that Fallopian Falafel reports from as many perspectives as possible. In the issue about reproduction, on which she is working at the moment, there will be both positive as well as critical articles about the right of abortion, for example.
Judaism is for Hadass a religion in which women had always played an important role and in many aspects are equal to men. Women in Judaism were already protected by a marriage contract before this custom became popular in other cultures as well. Being Jewish is primarily defined through the mother, not through the father. Women also play an important role in public life in Israel, even in the army. On the other hand, there are still no female rabbis and in general Hadass sees a need for improvement in many aspects.
“There are so many synagogues in which women and men sit peacefully next to each other. However, apart from that, traditional communities still exist, in which women and men are separated through a curtain or some kind of a wooden fence to pray. The other day I was driving to Tel Aviv in one of these little buses and a young girl, maybe ten or eleven years old, got in and sat down next to an ultraorthodox Jew. It was the only empty seat. He demanded that she stand up and sit somewhere else. An eleven year old girl!”
Precisely because of these contradictions Hadass wants to stay in the capital city and not move to the modern Tel Aviv. She shows me a coffee shop in her neighborhood in which two years ago a “very well-known terrorist attack took place.” When entering we are scanned by a security guard. Jewish humor is very black and it’s probably the only way to get along with this absurd situation. I had already experienced that the day before at an electro festival in Tel Aviv. When a loud air raid warning suddenly went off backstage, a techno producer commented on my irritated look simply with a bored: “Don’t worry. In two minutes you’ll find your foot over there, your arm dangling in the ventilator and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to release some last human sounds.” Hadass guides me further through Jerusalem’s new town, past a few record shops, coffee places and tattoo shops. The scene is very straightforward. Because of this, it is important to her to build a network with other young feminists and queer-activists around the world. Unlike Tel Aviv, where you always see homosexual couples holding hands, it is not easy in Jerusalem as a same-sex oriented person. Once a year the Jerusalem Open House organizes a Pride and Tolerance march, which regularly needs to be protected by the police because of the Arab and Jewish hardliners, in seldom unity, throwing taunts and stones. Both Arabs and Jews curse homosexuality as blasphemy. Hadass marches with them and distributes her fanzine, although she is not lesbian herself. The parades in Tel Aviv, however, with their carnival atmosphere, rainbow flags and solidly united politicians and celebrities, she finds almost ridiculous. “Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are completely different worlds.”
We finish the day in a small restaurant next to the famous Jaffa Street, where a concert of the Tel Aviv Riot Grrrl band HaShlooliyot is taking place. While people are still eating at the surrounding tables, the four girls burst in and arrange their instruments. The majority of the guests don’t seem to be here because of the band and during the concert they calmly continue enjoying the popular sandwiches for which they came, but the quartet doesn’t care. The singer’s name is Lisa, “like the vegetarian of the Simpsons.” She and Hadass know each other by sight. Hadass wrote about the band in Fallopian Falafel. Lisa is a little hyperactive, talks a lot, laughs all the time and finds everything “sweet,” the rooms, the crowd, vegetarianism. We stand in the smoking section and converse completely mundanely about food and about the fact that Israel is a paradise for vegetarians.
"For a vegetarian it’s paradise," Lisa throws in, "but for the Arab population, Israel is anything but." She completely disagrees with the safety policy of the current government, but this would be a futile discussion. “So let’s quickly smoke up the biggest tumor in the world before everything collapses,” she says and scrounges a cigarette.
I better not ask what else is supposed to collapse today. The fact that the band plays in a disdainful restaurant instead of a chic club is, by the way, not something that Lisa finds unusual for Jerusalem. The city would rather offer religious sights than a broad cultural choice. Therefore it happens that one plays in a sandwich place. In Tel Aviv the case is completely different.
Lisa sings in Hebrew, her lyrics and introductions are very humorous, the people in the audience and even the band members are laughing again and again. They talk about the small dicks of their ex-boyfriends, but sometimes also about the never-ending politics. In any case, everyone agrees that in the past politicians of both genders have failed.
The current issue of Fallopian Falafel on the topic of pregnancy and abortion can be downloaded for free on the website fallopianfalafel.blogspot.com. Older issues Hadass sends for a small fee, digital or by mail (email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hadass believes in God, but primarily, as she says, in herself. The fixed rules of the ultraorthodox Jews are, for her, just as suspicious as the nihilist melee of many punk bands.
Hadass does not feel like working for one of those glossy magazines. She is however not earning any money with Fallopian Falafel. “Instead I can write about topics that are important to me and I do not have to curry favor with anyone. Such freedom I would simply not have as an employee.”
Caption of the first picture:
The Uganda coffee place at Kikar square [mistake in the original] has not only the best Humus in town in its collection, but also discs and fanzines.
Caption of the second picture:
Riot Grrrl concert in a Jerusalem coffee place. The fact that most of the guests did not come for them but for the sandwiches does not bother the band.
Caption of the third picture:
The last issue of Fallopian Falafel was dedicated to the topic of love. This stays always [relevant] also between feminists.