Filmmaker, college professor, wife and mother, Yael Katzir was born in Tel Aviv in 1942. Studied at Hebrew University, Jerusalem and at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA received her Doctoral Degree in History. She completed a Masters at Boston University MFA in Broadcasting and Film.(Cum Laude)
Director of Beit Berl College: Communal Cable Television Center Broadcasting regularly on Israel Cable TV Channel 98, country wide.
Prof. of film and history at the Art School. Independent Documentary filmmaker director and producer; she is also a published author.Her Award winning films are: Company Jasmine, Shivah for My Mother, A place for everyone. A glimpse of Paradise and Praying in her own voice
Bijan Tehrani: Your film, “Praying in Her Own Voice”, deals with a subject that holds a great deal of importance, which some viewers may not grasp. Please tell us a little about the importance of this subject.
Yael Katzir: “Praying in Her Own Voice” is a film that deals with the very important question of women’s place in Israel’s society. It takes a look at a very courageous group that is paving the road for other women. The group is called Women of the Wall. They are a very heterogeneous group that includes Orthodox women, conservative women, Reform women and women who do not belong to any specific Synagogue. They come on every first day of the Jewish month at seven o’clock in the morning to pray in front of the Wailing Wall, the most sacred place for Jews in the world. They wish to pray according to the Jewish law. In the women’s section, when they are wrapped in the prayer shawl , they want to read from the Torah, and to pray and praise the Lord in song This is something that really threatens and raises havoc for the ultra orthodox Jews, who are afraid that if women take part, and are not chained down at the back of the synagogue, something will happen to Jerusalem. In the 21st century, when women are lawyers, neurosurgeons, and Prime Ministers, it is not clear why there must be a divorce between their roles in the temporal world and their duties in the spiritual realm. The struggle is very long. I have interviewed some Rabbis with authority, both in the US and Israel, and they all say that there isn’t any restriction for women reading from the Torah. Women are released from some things that were difficult for them to enact in ancient times but those things are not forbidden. Thus, if they want to read, they should be allowed to. There is another issue, and that is dealing with the voice of the women. There is a sentence in the Torahreferring to how the voice of women is tempting sexually, but many say that when it comes to prayer, everyone should pray. All the restrictions that are being put on women are because the men are afraid that they would be aroused sexually— so what?
BT: This film deals with a question of faith, but also even more so with women’s rights. This is about fighting for your rights.
YK: Exactly, fighting for civil rights.
BT: How has the Israeli government reacted to this situation?
YK: The status of women in Israel is still at the back of the bus. While there is some progress, it takes place very slowly. When the issue of the rights of the Women of the Wall to pray according to their custom came by appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, the decision was for the women, they should be allowed to pray. But then there was strong pressure from the religious political circles of the Government that reached the Supreme Court, and they have re-opened the case.. They have not gone back on their principle decision that women have the right to pray at the Wall according to their custom, but they have assigned for them a place at the archeological dig of the Wall 12 meters below the Prayer area and thus gave the women a place which no one hears or sees. This is very annoying, because all the civil rights and feminist rights organizations did not come out to support the women’s group. I have to say that the group of the Women of the Wall is very determined and strong, and they continue to fight for their rights, and I believe that in the end people will join them. As with the suffragists in England, their struggle took time. Those who are exiled or excluded from praying according to their own custom are not only the Women of the Wall , but also the religious Reform Conservative Communities, who compose the majority of the Jewish people in the World. .
BT: How difficult was the making of this film?
YK: Theses things are hard to measure. It was a big challenge; I received very little financial support but I had my ex students as my team. And the most important part was that I brought it to the finish line with the help of my son Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus who helped me to get to money in the crucial final stage. I myself am a secular Jew, and I met the Women of Wall? when I was with my students one day in the Old City, in a very odd situation. I saw a group of old women praying in the ruins of a German Christian church. I thought, are they crazy? I started to research, and understood that while the case was in court, they could open the door and look at the women’s section, but only in these ruins. They wanted to be present, and to be an example for other women. The film premiered at a big documentary film festival in Tel Aviv, and then word started to get around, but the Israel television is still not accepting it, because they don’t want to confront the religious people.
BT: How many times has the film been screened in Israel, and how has it been received?
YK: It did a round of all the cinemateques, and was screened two or three times in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa and Rosh Pina. It is being screened at many universities as well, and some of the reformed synagogues, but there it is like preaching to the converted. We had a very good screening at the San Francisco film festival, and will also have one in Berkley. The film has also been around the world. It won a merit award in India. It was in Spain, at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles last month. It attracted a full house in Los Angeles.
BT: Where do you think this struggle will go from here? Will it be a success for Women of the Wall??
YK: In the long run, I think it will be a success. Today the ultra-orthodox are going to try to pass a law in the Knesset(Israel House of Parliament) , proposing that the female members of Parliament (thirty percent of members of Parliament) will not be allowed to sing the national anthem in the house of Parliament!!!. So the film becomes even more relevant. I think that more exposure and publicity will help the cause. I worked on this for three or four years, and didn’t get paid, and I didn’t care because I care about the cause. This is something that has insulted me as a human being living in the 21st century. I have a PhD in History, and to think that the Jews, who were so clever in survival forms and always find solutions to situations, are fundamentalists and ready to resemble the Iranians?
BT: What are your future films?
YK: I have 2 projects. One deals with the influence of Berlin on Tel Aviv. This is going to be for the centennial celebration of Tel Aviv. I have another project that I hope to finish, but it depends on the finances. It is a diary of a violin builder during the second Lebanon War. It will carry the message that in spite of everything, he is going to continue to build violins during wartime.
I would like to add: that I have never had questions about my Jewish identity. But in the process of doing this film, my sense of Jewish identity really strengthened, because I felt that no one will take my Judaism away from me, even when they try to call me Goya, Arafat, and Amalek, what the Ultra Orthodox called us. The film ends with a song that I have written that include these lyrics; “In my voice, in your voice, in a woman’s voice, I lay another prayer. Not with silent mouthing words, my voice is crying to heaven. Out of Zion a Torah will come, and I too will have a place in the universe. In my voice, in every woman’s voice, there is a prayer. The music is very beautiful.