Thursday, July 15, 2010

Turnabout's Fair Play: Israel Interviews France

Yom shishi, 5 Av 5770.

Photographed by Ilana-Davita in Sweden "in September, and whose serenity I really like."
One of the best things about the blogging world is that I am privileged to meet such interesting people.  True -- we sometimes don't meet in person (at least not right away).  But as I have mentioned before, bloggers are real people, with interesting stories.  And sometimes we get to know one another as well through our writing as we get to know the "flesh-and-blood" people in our lives.

"Ilana-Davita" started an interesting feature I have been following, in which she interviews fellow bloggers.  She recently interviewed me -- and I thought my readers might like to get to know her.  Here is our conversation.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I am a 46-year-old woman who teaches English in a French high school.

What caused you to pursue the English language as a course of study?

I loved English from my first English lesson wen I was ten. After high school and before college, I spent a year in England in a school, and then it seemed natural to go on with English.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I was raised Catholic by practicing parents. Until about ten years ago, I did not know much about Judaism as a religion, although I had always had a keen interest in Jewish history and culture. I didn’t know, however, that one could convert to Judaism.

This all changed when I borrowed a book by Rabbi Telushkin – I am still a faithful fan of his – and started reading it. I almost instantly had the feeling that what I had always believed was Judaism. Believe me, it was both a bit scary and comforting. Scary to be shaken off base when I least expected it and comforting to find I had a spiritual home – by then I had stopped going to church for a long time. The book also mentioned conversion.

It became clear that I had come across this book for a purpose. I then found a rabbi with whom I could study, went to Paris regularly for classes and started learning Hebrew. I converted almost six years ago.

What are your feelings about aliyah?

I admire the people who make aliyah and sometimes wish I had their courage. You have to be very brave to leave behind your friends and relatives, your job, your home.

I think I’d find it difficult to move to Israel while not knowing whether I’d find a reasonably well-paying job in an environment where I would know so little of the language.

In addition at present there are other issues which would make aliyah difficult (aging parents being one of them) but I don’t totally rule it out either.

You mentioned the very difficult problem of making aliyah when aging parents need care. Are both of your parents still in the world? How did they feel about your conversion?

My parents are 76 and 73. I think they were a bit perplexed when I announced my desire to convert but said they were glad I had found a spiritual home. They love Israel and have been there three times – although they visited some places I probably wouldn't care to see myself.

Where in France do you live and is there a special reason you live there? 

I live in a middle-sized town (about 60,000 inhabitants) in Northern France. I ended up here because of my job. I started teaching in a junior high and then, after seven years, looked for something more challenging, and it so happens that my current school had vacancies. I applied through a complex system of points that is particular to France and got the job.

What would you like to share about your daily life in France that might be interesting to those of us outside France?

France is not the monolithic country portrayed in the media. Something Jewish people who are used to a stereotyped picture of Israel can understand.

For instance France went through a spate of anti-Semitic incidents a few years ago, but a lot of places are very quiet; and I know some people who always wear a kippah in Paris and who do not feel threatened. A number of Jews are university lecturers, film directors, actors or politicians here. It doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Some French journalists have pointed out that is difficult to teach about the Holocaust in some suburbs, which it shouldn’t be of course, but this is not the case everywhere. A young friend who teaches History was telling me the other day that in his classes the students were attentive and curious.

I also agree that the portrayal of Israel in the media is often biased and simplistic.

France’s main problem concerning Judaism – and other religions too – is that it is a very secular country. Secularism is practically the official religion in France.

There are some advantages; one being that religion isn’t pushed down people’s throats at school or elsewhere. But there is also one big drawback: ignorance. People know next to nothing about religions in general and Judaism in particular. As you know, ignorance can lead to misunderstandings and misunderstandings to disasters.

When and why did you start blogging?

I had been reading a few blogs for some months and felt I wanted to have a go. So I started blogging in January 2007. I was at LiveJournal then. I had a very small following at the time. But as I found their options and settings too limited and limiting, I switched to Wordpress in June 2007. The rest is history.

Where did you get the name for your blog?

It comes from Chaim Potok's novel. He is one of my favorite writers. I also chose it since I felt it pointed to the fact that it was a blog written by a woman.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

Very surprised. I never imagined I would meet so many fantastic people through my blog. I suppose that since I live in a town with such a tiny Jewish community, I need the feeling that I belong to something broader, and blogging fills part of this void.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

I feel proud when a post gets a lot of comments or when I have done a lot of research and feel the end product is not too bad. Here are two posts for which I worked hard:
- Survey: Morning Blessings (birkat ha-shachar)
- Organ donation
I am also delighted that so many people seem to enjoy my interview series.

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

More than one or two in fact. I’ll probably forget some. I hope no one feels offended.

- Treppenwitz whose prose led me to start my own blog
- Here in HP - Leora is a great blogger and she has taught me more than a thing or two in layout as well as careful and caring commenting. She is someone I really consider a friend, which may seem strange since we’ve never met.
- I just love the subtle humor displayed by Mrs.S. at Our Shiputzim and hope that when we meet in person we can share good moments.
Mom in Israel, another of my mentors. Guess where I got the idea of interviewing people from?
- Jew Wishes whose book reviews and vast knowledge of Jewish History and culture never ceases to astonish me
- I’ll Call Baila for her honest way of talking about her everyday life.
- Shavua Tov with whom I share many experiences.

There are also Shimshonit, Mimi and lots of others.

I also like the fact that these people are very different and that regularly I “meet” or get to know more new wonderful people – you for instance.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Ilana-Davita.  I appreciate getting to know you better.  And thank you for introducing me to some of your favorite bloggers.  I am definitely going to check out Mimi's Israeli Kitchen: Food, Wine and Bread from the Heart of Israel!

Don't you just want to have a cup of tea with this elegant person?   I do.


sparrow said...

YAY! Thanks Ruti for this interview. It is great to get to know more about "Ilana Davita" She looks JUST how I imagined her to look too! It took me a while to believe that she wasn't an expat English person living in France because her English is PERFECT. Keep blogging please - I really enjoy both of you:-)

Leora said...

This is a wonderful interview, Ruti. Thank you so much.

Ilana-Davita, I especially liked your comments on France - how the media portrays it in one way, but it is really complicated and multi-faceted. I wish I had known you when we (my husband and I) took our one trip to Paris 17 years ago.

Mrs. S. said...

Ruti, thanks for a great interview, and Ilana-Davita, thanks for sharing your fascinating story!

Shabbat Shalom to both of you!

mother in israel said...

Thank you very much for the kind words. I also love the picture. Kol hakavod, Ruti.

treppenwitz said...

I'm so glad you did this interview. When Ilana Davita interviewed me, I asked her some basic background stuff in return (like why is her English better than mine!)... but because it was the first time we had spoken I was afraid to ask too much.

I am so proud of my blog-children! :-)

rutimizrachi said...

Sparrow: Thanks for the encouragement. With such enthusiastic readers, it is a pleasure to keep blogging!

Leora: I felt the same way. The media often give us such one-dimensional views of other countries. I want people to see Israel in more shades and nuances than the media portray; so it seems reasonable to try to see other countries that way, too.

Thank you, Mrs. S. and Mother In Israel.

Treppenwitz: Does this make you The Blogfather? Te salut, Don Bognerone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone for the kind words.
The blogfather! Great find Ruti.

Baila said...

What a great idea, Ruti, to turn the tables on ID and interview her! I am so glad you asked all those questions and I found your responses fascinating. You know people hear and read so much about Israel in the media and those of us here know that so much of it is wrong, it never occurred to me that the people living in France feel the same way...

And I loved the picture, you're beautiful, ID!

PS Ruti, love the new look of the blog.