A Weavers' Circle

Michal Zilberberg (age 39) is a participant of the joint weaving course for Jewish and Arab women in Kufr Manda since October 2012. She lives in Kfar Saba, a mother of two adolescents, and does art work in hot glass, especially making beads. She really likes arts and crafts in general, such as: knitting, sowing, yarn spinning, and more. And she also plays the clarinet.

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Michal, please tell us how you got to the weaving course in Kufr Manda

I saw a posting about the courses in the internet. It took me some time to decide that I was going to go for it, because I live far away, but after I saw that add I searched for similar activities in places nearer to me. I couldn't find any, and so I decided to come here. I was very interested in joint activity of Jews and Arabs, through the medium of arts and crafts, through cooperative work, and this was the answer to that interest of mine. Also I had no previous experience in weaving, and I am always happy to try out new arts and crafts.
Did you take part in Jewish – Arab meetings before?
Yes, we had a project initiated by the democratic school in Kfar Saba where my children were educated. The project's name was "made in peace". It was an initiative for cooperation between Jews and Arabs doing things that could connect between them. I met a woman from JalJulia there, who is a professional jewelry maker, and we made a line of products together. We were very excited to be working together. However, this project has ended, for various reasons, and I was left with a sense of emptiness, that lead me to search for something else.

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Did you stay in touch with that woman since?

Not so much lately, but we did stay connected after the project ended, and our families met too.

You have been in the weaving course at Kufr Manda for some time now, can you tell us about some experience that had an impact on you during the time you have spent in the course?

Yes. From the first moment I was drawn into the special feeling of the place, and to the conversation, although it was difficult for me to follow most of it, as I do not speak Arabic. But even the Arabic speakers could understand Hebrew. I remember that one of the Arab women was writing Hebrew words in her notebook, so she could learn and remember them. We could not have a real conversation, but as it happened, I taught her some words in Hebrew. A few meetings later, I brought my own notebook, and she taught me. That way we managed to communicate, even without a common language to begin with. I was very touched by the fact that she made such an effort to learn these words, that are related to the craft of weaving, and the tools that are being used for it.

What made you go on learning in more courses here?

It is mostly the special atmosphere. You do not come to this place just to learn, you come for the entire experience, that I want to be a part of. Making new contacts, learning about each other's culture. I can learn to weave baskets in places that are much closer to me physically. And yet I choose to keep coming here.

How would you describe the experience of learning together with Arab women?

I knew Arab women in the past, in our joint group. That was a more superficial acquaintance. There is a big difference between the women from Jaljulia and the women here, different social codes. The women in Kufr Manda are more traditional, I think, they don't go out of their village that much. In Jaljulia it is different, they always go to Kfar Saba, the doctors and shopping centers are all there, it is acceptable for them to go out, with a chaperone, yes, but they do go out. I feel that I am learning so many things here, I have to deal with so many previous opinions that I have, to remember that things are different in each culture. For instance – the liberated woman.

One of the Arab women in the group, a young woman who is taking driving lessons, told me that before she started her father was very much against that, and I find it very hard to understand just how much impact a father's objection to something his daughter wants to do can have on her, when things are so different in my world. This enables me to develop some modesty and rethink this whole subject. It is so clear to me, as a third generation feminist, what a woman should or should not do.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges that you face here?
The language barriers, the feminism and its broader meaning. Every time I see another side of this issue, and that puts me in the listener's position. It develops over time, at the beginning I was more engaged in my own world, and today I listen more.
After some time that you have been learning weaving in Kufr Manda, has your perception of the relationships between Arabs and Jews changed?
My perception has strengthened. The issue of communication between the peoples has become more significant. The fact that I am sitting in a place with people who cannot speak my language makes me want to put more efforts in that direction, the realization that a common language is first and foremost a common language. I learn some from listening, and some more by myself at home. That is a target I have assigned for myself – to learn Arabic, and I hope to achieve it. That desire to learn and to be able to communicate has grown stronger within me since I started to come here.
Did you find out about other fields of activity of the organization (Sindyanna of Galilee) since you started this course? What are your impressions of them?
I got acquainted with the field of "Fair Trade" through the opening event las May in Jerusalem, the event of "partners for peace", which is a cooperation between Sindyanna of Galilee and the Palestinian Fair Trade organization. I would be happy to know more, and would like to see how I can bring greater contribution and effect.
What is your vision for continuation of learning and cooperation here?
I was very attracted to your suggestion last week, to have joint weaving sessions, more like a sort of a workshop, to work together, and less frontal instruction. That is the vision that I would be happy to promote. A sort of a weavers' circle.

June, 2013 / Interviewer: Osnat Shperling /  Translation: Rachel Ben Shitrit