‘Sitting with Sass’ Featuring Yara Ashkar
Yara describes herself as rather being a jack of all trades than a master of none. Whilst working within the fashion industry as a designer, she has also launched her career as a yoga teacher in Haifa, Israel, one of the first to be leading classes in Arabic. It is also Yara’s knowledge and practice of Ayurvedic treatment has led to her involvement with start projects which aim to promote self-care and wellbeing to women living as refugees in the West Bank. Yara was kind enough to answer some of my questions I had about the pressures woman living as an Arab Palestinian in Israel feel and the effect their society has had on them.
Bethany : I’ve met a lot of inspiration women here in Haifa, who seem to share in a similar way of thinking. You being one of them. Do you think growing up in this political climate has effected the way you think and act?
Yara: I think we gravitate to people who share our interests, tell us what we want to hear! So yes, the majority of women you’re meeting here in Haifa are from a certain scene. We are girls who left our parent’s home early, around 18 or 19 years old and are fairly likeminded.
Is the move away from your parents something that is key for the growth of the likeminded young women we’ve talked about?
It depends. Some of us have good relationships with our parents, some of us don’t and some of us hide parts of our lives in order to be ourselves. I grew up in a very open-minded family but even so, my parents have regrets about the way they raised us because, as adults, we have stepped way further ahead of them in terms of our mental attitude and they can’t catch up. We have experienced a mental shift which is very different from the way their generation thinks. The book, the bible, the holy grail is no longer applicable in our lives and I feel their frustration because, although they appreciate who we’ve become, knowing they’ve done a good job in raising us, we have neglected the book! It doesn’t make them feel at ease, they’re scared and afraid that we will have a tough future doing the things that are not really considered, in their eyes, as “safe”. If I was a doctor then I have a safe known path but I’m stepping into the unknown by teaching yoga and that’s scary for them. It’s the same thing with marriage. I’m 28 and a half now and I’m kind of expired because who will marry me at this age!? This is not the view of my parents specifically but of the community. Society.
I grew up in a very open-minded family but even so, my parents have regrets about the way they raised us because, as adults, we have stepped way further ahead of them in terms of our mental attitude and they can’t catch up.
The society being the Palestinian Arabic community living in Israel? Because I have seen and heard the way younger women and men have felt the traditions of that culture become a straitjacket around their life and their choices.
Some days are better than others but I often feel my parent’s frustrations come from external pressures. My grandparents may say something like “Why is Yara not married yet? What is she doing teaching sport? Why did you paid so much money for her to go to university for four years. Why doesn’t she act like the rest of the girls, open a studio and design Bridal gowns?” because that’s the norm, that’s what fashion designers here do. Fashion designers don’t do yoga. It’s stepping into the unknown and that’s what scares them, they’re acting out of fear. They don’t really see the picture as it is. And I know many girls here whose parents have neglected them because of the lifestyle they chose to live.
This is what seems so difficult and sad is that the tie with your family makes the pressure more emotional, it comes with a sense of failing them.
Absolutely. And it’s tough especially when you know you’re not a failure, that you haven’t failed them in any way. However, they consider you to be lost and that’s where my frustrations come from.
For example, my yoga journey is a very sensitive topic with my parents, I choose not to celebrate my successes with them or be completely open. Not because they don’t believe in me because I know that they do and they appreciate my knowledge, however they can’t disconnect from the fear. In a sense they are failing their parents through the way they’ve raised us as kids. Its hard for me to say this but the day my grandparents will die, or leave this world, will be a relief for my parents because then they won’t have this pressure anymore and maybe they’ll let us thrive, continuing with the paths we have chosen.
Although we have moved on and even my grandparents, who lived through it all, they have made peace with the enemy, it boils down to a want to preserve the good lineage of our Arab Palestinian roots.
The life that your Grandparents and Parents lived and experiences they went through will affect how they think and feel. However liberal, I think we always know our parents limits of acceptance due to that generational gap. So when you say you don’t always share your success with your parents I understand it as trying to protect them somehow.
Exactly, the fact that we keep information from our parents is partly because we don’t want to cause them pain and agony.
You asked if maybe growing up here made us think and act the way we do. It could be. But talking about how we don’t share certain information with our parents because we may let them down has med me to another thought. It makes me remember the times I heard comments, not from my parents, but from my grandparents, like “Oh! You’re dressing up like a Jew now. Why are you acting like a Jew”. I think this reaction is a response to the conflict and the events that happened here, that the Jews are considered “the enemy”. And although we have moved on and even my grandparents, who lived through it all, they have made peace with the enemy, it boils down to a want to preserve the good lineage of our Arab Palestinian roots. The traditions, the culture, our behaviour and manners. This is important to them because “Jewish people lack manners”, which is somewhat true!
It is somewhat true but it‘s a different attitude.
Exactly! For example, in Arab families you don’t call your Uncle in their name. You say Uncle. But Jewish families will just say their name. And now, I call my Aunties by their names. You see?
It‘s the diluting of a culture which I think people are scared about. There’s a sense of protection over a cultural identity that, because of the conflict, has been trimmed away, oppressed and suppressed. A way of rebelling against that is to hold on to traditions, ways of acting, talking, dressing. In this setting, living in Haifa, working in Tel Aviv, you’re living day to day around different influences, different cultures and diverse people so you’re going to share in their lifestyle.
Of course and because we work with these people so it’s the most obvious thing that we will take some of their ideas. And we’re not taking the bad things, we’re taking the freedom. But this, in itself, is an eye opener. You go from feeling isolated by your own society and community to suddenly seeing and experiencing new things. Things that, within our own culture we don’t want to open up about, e.g sex, living alone, dressing in a certain way, speaking in a certain way, doing things differently. Doing things the way the enemy does!
This for me, as a British woman, has been the most challenging part of your society for me to accept. To hear how so many women lack freedom in their lives. Their choices to move, work and travel are so limited, controlled by the families approval or a dependence on marriage.
It’s because you’re not this generation of people who are correcting things. Someone else took care of that for you.
True, probably my grandparents!
And so they’re the ones that went through that, to make the change. I do believe that we sacrifice for the next generations, we are now fighting for our rights to live independently, to have boyfriends and maybe live with our boyfriends (even though it’s still a huge taboo!) or to have sex. To be open and celebrate our sexuality and sensuality as woman and express ourselves and speak our rights. Speak loudly and not just whisper and cook and clean. To have our own careers.
I do believe that we sacrifice for the next generations… To be open and celebrate our sexuality and sensuality as woman and express ourselves and speak our rights. Speak loudly and not just whisper and cook and clean. To have our own careers.
I think it’s going to progress, and I already have witnessed the changes. I remember growing up in a village as a kid and I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts and go in the street because “you’re not allowed to do that”. Crops tops; HELL NO! What?!! Now, when I go back to my village, what do I see? I see the younger generation and they’re all wearing crop tops and short pants being like ‘whatever!’ I think to myself, Ok, I did my thing. It’s because of me you’re wearing that! Leaders step out of their comfort zone
I have met so many women here who are doing just that, stepping out of the norm and leading. And that does and will continue to make an impact of change.
Yes, in a way. But we are stronger when we act together. It is this community that makes us feel strong. One person can’t make much of a difference, but two people can do way more. Three even better. A group, now you’re talking. And this is coming from someone who can’t work as a team! But I do believe in it. On our own we can feel scared or underconfident, but by unifying you can feel a huge sense of power. Sometimes you have to put your ego aside and just make things happen.
Interview written by Yara Ashkew and Bethany Burgoyne
Artwork by Bethany Burgoyne