Seven questions to Ada Aharoni for the International Women's Day.
1. You are the author of over two dozen books. What was the driving force inside you to form your desire to write?
Ada: I always loved reading books as a child, and I felt so grateful to all the great authors I loved: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Emily Dickens, and many others, that I felt I had to give back something of myself too: my inner feelings, my emotions, my view of life and how to improve it, as well as to repair the world. Especially, to try to improve the status of women through my writings.
In Cairo, Egypt, where I was born, I had two grandmothers: Regina, my mother's mother, who had a Western Culture, and Esther, my father's mother, who had a Middle Eastern culture. One day, when I was playing chess with my older brother, I won, though he had taught me how to play, and I was proud of myself and thought he would kiss me, instead he slapped my face! I was so astonished and outraged I slapped him right back. My grandmother Esther caught my arm and said: "Don't ever dare to hit your brother again, and always remember - a boy is worth sixty girls!" I was aghast and asked "Why?" But she had no answer that convinced me: "That's just the way it is!" She said, "and the quicker you learn it, the better for you!" I ran to my Grandmother Regina, and asked her about what Nona (Grandmother) Esther had said. "Nonsense!" she cried, "you are certainly worth any boy!"
Since then, the status of women became one of the main themes of my books. I look for Heroines, model women, and I write about them, as in my book: NOT IN VAIN: AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE, about Thea Woolf, a wonderful heroine, who saved Jews from the Holocaust in Europe, during the Second World War, through the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria Egypt, with the help of Egyptian - Arab officials. I profoundly feel that if women had more power in ruling the world - we would have a much better world: peace, harmony and care - instead of wars, destruction and violence.
2. Your outstanding novel, FROM THE NILE TO THE JORDAN, was translated into some languages, including Vietnamese, and got international acclaim. What is the most significant message you meant to send to your readers through this book?
Ada: One of my most significant messages I guess, in FROM THE NILE TO THE JORDAN, is that with courage, love and wisdom, one can redo one's life again, even after a great catastrophe as that of war and destruction of one's life and community. Inbar strives to create a new life in Israel despite her tragedy and the loss of her family, but she never loses hope that she will find her beloved Raoul, though he had been beaten up by a cruel Egyptian mob, and expulsed from Egypt.
Another significant message is the yearning desire of the Jewish people, symbolized by the heroine, Inbar, for a country of her own, and her great hope that one-day Israel will exist again, as in the time of the Bible. She was born in Egypt, and so were her parents and grandparents, yet the Egyptian authorities did not give nationality to the Jews. Every human being wants to belong to a land, and Inbar's lack of identity becomes fulfilled only when she goes to the kibbutz (collective farm) in Israel, to help build her country, that was then just two years old. Israel flourishes, but the Palestinian neighbors do not recognize her right to exist, and wage wars on it, though the majority at the United Nations voted for the establishment of the State of Israel.
So the third significant message of my book (which I will briefly mention, though there are several others), is that wars do not solve anything, they just bring misery, destruction, disasters and death on both sides. The Palestinians should establish a State of their own, and should recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead of waging wars on Israel, they should try to imitate her and create a viable and peaceful life for their citizens, then both neighbors: Israel and Palestine, could flourish together side by side in peace.
3. Being a writer and an activist, you have acquired impressive achievements. What barriers did you face to get where you are today (particularly when you are a Jewish woman who lives in an area of conflicts and wars)?
Ada: The major barriers were, and still are, the lack of help both organizational and financial by the authorities and institutions in charge. I founded IFLAC: The International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, in Israel in 1999, and we have many projects for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue between women and children, and a daily IFLAC Digest on the Internet for peace and understanding, through bridges of culture and literature.
Our great project this year is the PCTV: Peace Culture Television project - to set up a TV Channel for Peace in the Middle East. It would have attractive peace programs for all ages and disciplines, including history, art, music, etc... all from the point of view of peace, including Peace News, viewed and reported from new aspects, as through the eyes of mothers. However, the great barrier is finding support for this gigantic project, which could be such a boon to the whole region and could avoid a next September 11! We applied to Mrs. Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO to help us set up the PCTV, and the response was negative! I think the whole world should be interested in a powerful and resourceful Peace Channel, and that major Institutions such as the UN, the World Bank, and governments should help to set up this urgently requested Peace TV.
The PCTV, could be called: "Shalom - Salaam", it would function as "Preventive Medicine" and would introduce peace values into the minds of the young, before the poison of terrorism, "Suicide Bombers" and "Death Culture" was poured into their veins. Being a woman and Jewish in this region, does not facilitate matters, but we have and we will continue to overcome...
4. You wrote many poems about women's rights and fates (for example, the poem "A prayer of a Jewish woman"). Do you consider yourself a "feminist"?
Ada: Yes, I consider myself a feminist, in the sense that I feel women should have equal opportunities as men, and should have an equal part in running their countries and the world. I became a feminist at the age of seven, when my grandmother insisted that one boy is worth sixty girls! (Please see answer to question one.)
The poem you mention, "A Prayer of a Jewish Woman," is a satiric answer to an actual prayer in the Jewish religion that goes: "Thank you Oh Lord for having made me a man, and not made me a woman!" I am not religious, but this prayer should really be changed today, as it is so anachronistic! I told the Rabbi in Haifa, that I suggest it be changed to: "Thank you Oh Lord, for making me what you desired", then every body would be happy, the women too, and he agreed with me. However, this sexist prayer still exists and has not been changed yet. If most of the Jewish women would sign a Petition against this sexist prayer, perhaps they would succeed to throw it into the bin of archaic history. If and when we have the PCTV: Peace Culture Television, we will make a program about it and send the sexist prayer straight to where it belongs!
5. Being a president of IFLAC, can you talk something about the goals of this forum in the immediate future?
Ada: I have already answered part of this question in my answer to question three, where I talk about the urgent necessity of creating the PCTV: The Peace Culture TV.
Another IFLAC project we are very involved with and are working hard on is the establishment of THE PEACE STORYTELLING FESTIVAL, all over the country, and in Gaza. Peace studies and Peace Literature are not taught in schools in our region, and so we try at IFLAC to tell our peace stories through Festivals. The Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel said: "We are the stories we heard and the stories we tell!" Therefore the stories we hear and tell should be positive, harmonious, creative and full of love. And these are the kind of stories we present at our Festivals. We have just organized our second Festival at the Haifa Cinematheque, from February 24 (Valentine Day), to February 18. It was a great success!
We plan to run this Love and Peace stories Festival all over the country, including in schools, and hope to bring it to Gaza too, and have Israeli and Palestinian children and youth tell love and peace stories to each other and to their parents and audiences.
6. You are a researcher, writer, poet and lecturer, how do you balance between your work and your home life?
Ada: Now it is easier, as my two children: Ariel (a medical doctor: gynecologist), and Talia (a social worker), are grown up, and have children of their own. We all see each other every weekend, and I am grateful they live close to me. Unfortunately, my husband died three years ago, and I am a widow. Now I usually take my meals at the university, so that I cook only on weekends, when the children and grandchildren come to see me. They are all coming tomorrow for the Purim Feast celebration - where we all dress up, sing, dance and have fun. I am so happy when they come!
Nowadays, I do my creative work at my computer about eight hours a day, and enjoy taking care of my plants on my fourteenth floor veranda, and swimming in the pool at the University.
However, when the children were young and I worked full time, it was very hard to manage both the house and my creative work. I used to wake up at five o'clock in the morning to do my writing before sending the children to school and going to work. My dear husband helped, but most of the work fell on my shoulders, and I was always pressed for time. However, as long as I could create stories, novels and poems, in addition to the creation of a loving household - I enjoyed and still enjoy, every minute of my life.
7. What do you wish for women all over the world on the International Women Day 2010?
Ada: I wish a "Pomegranate Life" for women all over the world - ruby grains of wisdom and freedom, creative lives, equal status as that of men, equal opportunities to choose whatever they desire, and success in reaching the power women have in Scandinavia, where they are almost half of the members of their governments and parliaments.
The running of the Scandinavian countries by both women and men equally, is the secret of Scandinavia's high standard of living, one of the highest in the world. How did the Scandinavian women do it? They told their governments, if you want us women to vote for you - then it's "one man one women on every key position in the country!" And "Women vote Women!" And this is how they won, and everybody else in Scandinavia won. I wish for women of the world to emulate the Scandinavian women, and to bring us peace and prosperity to our global village. I know we can.
Thank you for your time and enthusiasm.
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