Yael Levy, 57, Givat Ze'ev

They live in different places in Israel, pursue different occupations, come from different family backgrounds and are at different stages of their lives. Yotam Feldman?s portrait of eight women − all named Yael Levy.

Yotam Feldman
Yotam Feldman
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Yotam Feldman
Yotam Feldman

Scene I: Better days

Yael Levy, the ninth of 10 siblings, was born in Bikur Holim hospital in the center of Jerusalem and grew up in the house in the picture, in what was known as the "tin shacks" section of the city's Nahlaot neighborhood. Her mother was a housewife and her father a messenger in the water department of the Jerusalem municipality. Her parents, who are of Syrian extraction, are distant relatives and were married when her mother was 14 and her father 30.

Levy waxes nostalgic when she recalls her childhood. "You can't be completely in the past," she says, "but I try to be there a few hours every week. I really like nostalgia and old songs, whatever has to do with earlier periods. Maybe once, things were better for me, so it's worth going back." In her spare time she visits the Jerusalem neighborhood in which she grew up, and reminisces. "I had a girlfriend who lived here, and this is where we hung out, and there's where we walked." Two years ago, she went to the Alliance school she had attended and stood for half an hour in front of the gate, trying to jog her memory with the aid of the building's exterior, but didn't dare enter.

Scene II: Reparations line

When she was 18, Levy got a job at the King George Street branch of Bank Leumi in Jerusalem, and she has worked there ever since. At first she was in the foreign currency section. Every month she faced a line of Holocaust survivors who came to collect their reparations from Germany. The survivors were happy to have the opportunity for a chat with the bank clerk. "I think that was the first time I met Holocaust survivors," Levy says. "They were generally embittered - you could see their grief. But their distress was different from that of my parents. They didn't have financial problems - they were lonely." Levy tried to amuse the people in the line, engaging them in conversation. "It was refreshing for them to talk to a young girl. Most of the survivors had no one, and talking with me was an opportunity to pour out their hearts."

Scene III: A torn seam

"What I lack most is self-confidence. That's what's ruining my whole life, and I don't know where it comes from," Levy says. "For example, my son bought a coat and two months later there was a rip in the seam. A friend said: 'Go to the store and tell them.' I told her I wasn't capable of doing that. What would I tell them, that the coat isn't good? A few days ago I was in a restaurant with my husband. We ordered salad and it was no good. I said I won't tell them that I don't like the salad, because there is no way I can say something like that. If people want to visit me and it's not convenient for me, I can't tell them it's not a good time. My daughter is exactly the opposite: she has a surplus of self-confidence. She says I am not developed, that I don't see things right."

Yael's husband, Yossi, who retired this year, was a police superintendent, an investigator at the police station in Jerusalem's Russian Compound. An archivist who worked with Yael at the bank introduced them when she was 26. They made a date to meet at the circumcision ceremony of a mutual friend's son, and then started going out. Her previous boyfriend decided to move to the United States after Levy broke up with him. "I didn't think Yossi was serious, so I told him that maybe I would follow the guy who was about to go abroad," she relates. "He proposed on the spot."

Scene IV: Separation wall

The wall that separates Givat Ze'ev from the villages around Ramallah is visible from Levy's window. Even though she lives across the Green Line, she does not consider herself a settler. She and Yossi bought the apartment in 1988, after living in Jerusalem and looking for a bigger place they could afford. "This is not a settlement," she insists. "It's not like living in Yitzhar or Eli. I wouldn't be able to live in an isolated place that is protected by soldiers."

Her parents and family were all ardent supporters of Herut, the forerunner of Likud. They were members of the movement's Kupat Holim Leumit health maintenance organization; her father got the party paper every day and read it to the members of the household, and she remembers vividly Menachem Begin's speeches on the streets of Jerusalem. "There wasn't a speech my parents missed. We always went to see and hear him, we absolutely worshiped the man. When he spoke in Menorah Square, all of Bezalel Street was filled from top to bottom with people who were there just to hear him speak. Everyone stood for hours and never got tired. We loved the sound, the melody of his speech. He said exactly what we wanted him to say.

To this day I remember the speech in which [the late entertainer] Dudu Topaz mentioned the tshachtshakim - he used the wrong word [to describe Likud supporters]. Tshachtshakim are lowlifes, inferior types, and that was a direct continuation of Ben-Gurion's patronizing. Mapai [forerunner of Labor] is a patronizing movement, and we were looking for something more modest."

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