Upcoming Events

  • No upcoming events available



Global IMC Network

  • www.indymedia.org

Ronni Shendar & Till Rohmann Interview

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend to friendSend to friendPDF versionPDF version

Activist Ronni Shendar, director of Daila, and Till Rohmann, aka DJ Glitterbug, discuss their most recent project, The C Sides Festival.

The relationship between Jews and Germany is as sordid as they come, and for obvious reasons. At this stage in history, there is little need to recount the horrors Deutschland's Jewish population faced at the hands of their gentile neighbors. Anti-Semitism was an expected consequence of Jewish life in Germany, beginning with the advent of Lutheranism in the 1500s and eventually culminating in Hitler's Final Solution over 400 years later — an atrocity of which few are unaware.

However, 60 years since the liberation of Germany's death camps and the end of the Shoah, the ice is near fully-thawed, and relations between the Jewish people and the German republic fare better now than at any moment in history preceding. For the last three decades, Germany's popular culture has been driven by participants in anti-Fascist movements who have, upon each generation, impressed their ethic as the definition of cultural chic. The German government has made the prosecution of hate crimes and hate groups a top priority of its political agenda, and German dignitaries are driven from office for making even the slightest anti-Semitic allusion. Israel itself now competes with Germany for Jewish immigration from the Former Soviet Union and Germany has the second fastest-growing Jewish population in the world. The Jewish state has also, for some time, enjoyed a status of economic interdependence with the nation that once made the Zionist enterprise an inescapable necessity, as ironic as it may seem.

Reporting on an exhibition of Israeli art in Berlin which runs through early September, Der Spiegel's Damien McGuiness wrote, "Today Israel is Germany's biggest business partner in the Middle East, while Germany is Israel's most important trading partner in Europe. Countless towns in both countries are twinned together, and although Germany is unlikely to be the top travel destination of many older Israelis, Berlin's reputation as a center of edgy creativity is increasingly attracting the young, hip and the cool. And now, in honor of the 40th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations, the German capital is playing host to [a] major exhibition of Israeli art."

As evidenced by this — the largest-ever exhibition of Israeli art outside of Israel itself — artistic cultural exchange has become an increasingly popular method of building bridges between divided cultures. Art, music, literature and film have the ability to convey that which cannot be stated in conventional dialogue and thus hold the potential to foster understanding and even appreciation amongst divergent communities in unexpected ways. But while such efforts tend to be aimed at the general public and fare relatively well as far as supporting foundations and their benefactors are concerned, little is done to connect artists across borders — those who set the cultural tone and define a community's consciousness — and to encourage their dialogue with each other.

Such a rarity is C Sides, a three-day festival of electronic music and media art taking place this week at Jerusalem's Khan Theatre, which has brought various German artists and musicians to Israel for a cultural exchange with their Israeli contemporaries. Sponsored in-part by Hazira, an Israeli arts organization, the event will feature a series of concerts, exhibitions and panels through which participants will discuss their feelings about the Shoah, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the political function of art and music.

C Sides is the brainchild of Ronni Shendar, the 26 year-old Israeli activist behind Daila — Jerusalem's popular infoshop and "critical" performance space, and her partner Till Rohmannn, a German electro DJ who has become a staple of the local electronic music scene, performing regularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv under the moniker Glitterbug.

Tank Girl

Ronni Shendar was born in Haifa but spent her formative adolescent years in Minneapolis, Minnesota where her mother attended university on a scholarship made available to international students. You might say she grew up the average American girl, but she did not forgo her Israeli identity, nor her Israeli responsibilities, and after high school, returned to Israel at the age of 18 to fulfill her military obligation. Serving as a lieutenant in the Air Force, Ronni worked in translation services for the top Israeli command, relaying messages between her superiors and that of other international Air Forces. However, it was during her time of service that Ronni also began to develop an understanding of the situation in the occupied territories and the Israeli military's impact upon the Palestinian population. Thus, the seeds of her resistance were planted.

"During the time I was living in Tel Aviv," Ronni offers, in a frank yet candid tone. "I lived in an apartment with three other people who had nothing to do with the military, meaning basically that I had a day-time job. This was during the Oslo process, at which time the occupation was seemingly on its way to conclusion.

"If you grew up in a liberal family, that meant you saw the occupation as not necessarily a good thing. Not that I knew anything about it whatsoever, but I grew up with the idea that Palestinians should have equal rights. I never really had much interaction with the Palestinian community and of course my education did not allow for any cultural ability to know what it means or what it entails to be a Palestinian living in Israel or the territories.

"However, during that time I was receiving Haaretz to my apartment every day and B'Tselem [an Israeli human rights organization] used to put out a quarterly with the newspaper, so every three months they would come out with a supplement that would talk about human rights in the territories. Amira Hass was also writing a lot at that time. And so from reading Haaretz I was sort-of beginning to realize what was happening in the territories.

"By the end of my military service, I thought, 'Wow, I am giving my life to this.' I got a reasonable salary by the time I was an officer. They made pretty good offers so that I could've continued if I wanted — as far as salary, living condition, a car, things of that sort — but by that time, my conclusion was, that this doesn't make any sense — that I'd invest my time, my creativity, and my thought into a military system that was insane. So I gave this big speech at the end of my military service that there's no way I'd be an active part of the system if I could be an active part of civil society, and then I said goodbye and left."

Ronni decided to take a break at the conclusion of her service and flew to America where she bought a motorcycle and drove cross-country, making it to California just in time for her brother's wedding. It was, however, during her road-trip that all hell had broken loose back home, and the second Intifada began.

"I started watching it from abroad which gives you a different perspective from seeing what's happening from here. In the States I had encounters with activists who started to ask me a lot of questions — some Jewish, some not. Either way, I didn't have very good answers to their questions. This made me think about a lot of things and question them myself, and after this six month period that I was traveling, my conclusion was that I was going to come back here and start to learn about what was happening in the territories and be supportive on issues of human rights."

When she returned, Ronni landed a job at the Alternative Information Center, an organization which generates research materials on issues pertaining to the occupation that counter the spin of the Israeli government and its allies in North America.

"When I came back here I was looking for paying work in social action causes, and I somehow landed upon the Alternative Information Center. They were seeking someone to monitor their settler violence project, which monitored violence of settlers against Palestinians in the territories. Today this is something more known about, but at that time was something that no one would ever speak about. I think in the past six months with this whole disengagement thing it's something that's surfaced because the government needs to demonize all the settlers. So finally all these stories have come out, but these things has been happening forever and ever. The media was never so interested in picking up on it."

Ronni continued working for the AIC for three years, in her tenure helping to establish the Jerusalem branch of Taayush, another Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization. However, at the time when Israel's Defensive Shield operation began, and the conditions in the territories drastically worsened, Ronni became even further radicalized and began to engage in exceptionally brave and dangerous activities in the territories.

"When the Defensive Shield operation happened, it was a huge pivotal point for some activists. All of a sudden the political situation in the territories changed completely overnight. The things we'd been fighting against beforehand, like closures, checkpoints, food not getting through, people being unable to go to work — that is what the occupation and the Intifada was about. But then Defensive Shield began and tanks went all over the West Bank, into every city. There was curfew everywhere and you had a direct military occupation. Before it was this strangling policy of closing off villages from the outside, but from Defensive Shield and on, all of the main cities had actual military forces inside.

"It was not just that people could sort of live their lives in their little jail of a village or town that they were living in. People couldn't leave their homes anymore and this was happening in every single city. All the activities we were doing before, like bringing food convoys in private cars, or other goods and medical equipment, were no longer relevant. You couldn't get anywhere — anywhere we would try to enter the military would stop us. We were no longer dealing with soldiers who were closing off streets. We were dealing with tanks. It was sort of not really relevant anymore to bring people food when they were being shot every time they left their houses during curfew. Their immediate need was no longer something to eat; they had quite a few more needs regarding human rights at that time.

"As a movement we couldn't decide what we could do as a large movement." Due to the conditions of the occupation, it was no longer practical to enter the territories as a large body and engage in mass actions. "You have to be a small enough group that you're able to decide on the moment where you enter the city, you have to be able to move over mountains or ditches or tanks in a roundabout way, and if you're not all able to fit in one car it's going to be useless. It had to be a much more intimate action able to make fast decisions that can by very mobile. And so people developed smaller groups [to engage in direct action]."

"A few of us went [to Ramallah and Nablus] and made some pretty incredible connections with the Palestinians that were living there. It was a huge and really intense exchange because most Palestinians never really had any interactions with Israelis other than soldiers. Of course you have the older generation which worked in Israel, and the working class, who did construction work, or worked in kitchens in Israel before the Intifada. But there's still a huge population that had either spent their entire lives in refugee camps, or were not from working class backgrounds and thus had no interactions with Israelis."

"We were continuously thinking of what we can do. We wanted to establish some sort of trust with the community there. It's not that we could go out in the street and speak in Hebrew and say 'Hey, we are the nice Israelis who have come to support you,' because that's not necessarily welcomed in most places. Most of us had to continuously speak in English and only a few times did we strategically decide to disclose our identity. So we thought about doing some action that would be easily picked up by the media — something a bit more dramatic that could be more sensational and also reach the local community. The conclusion we came up with was to go to a checkpoint and jump on a tank," an experience she recounts as "embarrassing."

"Because we're Israeli we could bring a megaphone and speak to them in Hebrew and we could spraypaint the tank with messages in Hebrew saying 'The occupation is terror.' So that's what we did. We ran up to the tank and started spraypainting it on the side with all these slogans and then my friend who had a very well versed mouth took the megaphone and started screaming. I jumped on the tank and was writing stuff on the front. And then one of the soldiers came out of the tank and was standing in front of me. All of these Palestinian friends of ours were standing from the balconies watching.

"And I look at him and I sort of don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. I'm so angry at him, and at the same time, I'm just like, okay, I'm going to kick the tank because I'm pissed off. I can't break anything on here. I'm not going to punch you. And he's like, 'What the hell are you doing?' And I thought we were going to get into a screaming match, but he was completely shocked because there's obviously no one speaking Hebrew or Jews other than the soldiers around him. He was completely in shock about the situation that was happening with these two Israeli girls jumping on his tank and spraypainting it.

"He didn't know what to do. I also didn't know what to do. What, am I going to scream at him, 'You're causing terror here? You're ruining peoples lives?' So it actually turned into a conversation and I started talking to him and asked him if he realized what he was doing there was actually causing more problems than it was doing good; if he could understand what it looks like from the perspective of the citizens and the residents of the city. And he's like 'Yeah, but everybody here's a terrorist,' and I say, 'Listen I've been here for three days now. Here are my experiences of how people treated me, and I think we need to make a differentiation between people who are involved in armed resistance and people who are not. You're harming the entire community here. If kids can't go to school because every time they walk out of the house there's a tank out there, you're going to make these kids hate you.' And he says, 'Yeah, but why should these kids hate me? I'm just here to protect them,' and I'm trying to explain to him what it means for them to see someone with a gun and a uniform standing in front of them that it's not an equal relationship. You can't pretend to be talking to school kids if they think you're going to kill them because that's what they know of the situation.

"I think I was standing on that tank for at least ten minutes talking to him. It was completely bizarre. They didn't do anything. I asked him, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to arrest me, are you going to hit me?' And he said, 'No.' And we were just standing there both completely uncomfortable with this bizarre situation, trying to hold a conversation on top of a tank, when there were two other tanks around and two military jeeps and all these people watching.

"At one point, my friend was like, 'I think we have to close this event and move on' and that's when the border police jeeps came and they just rolled down their windows and started calling us whores and bitches and screaming at us because, you know, we're two women, so we're obviously whores. And then we just jumped off the tank and ran away because we didn't want to get arrested.

"But at the same time, we were holding up all these other cars that were there. They had no idea what was happening. All they know is that for twenty minutes they've been stuck in a line behind us. Not that there were any critical cases, but there were also ten ambulances piled up by then. Nothing that we did actually came into direct interaction with those people or tried to get them through the checkpoint. Basically, we just made their lives much more miserable. When we ran off, we didn't have time to explain to people who we were and why we were doing this, and why'd they'd been held up by two Israeli girls in the middle of Nablus. It's something I'm really, really embarrassed by, even still today. It would've been much better for those people who were standing by their cars trying to see what the hell was happening if we would've gone on their behalf and said, 'Okay, now let these people through this checkpoint.' But it had nothing to do with them. It was much more concerned with our message and how are we going to advance our struggle and build Israeli and Palestinian cooperation for direct action in the territories, which of course is important, but it's very embarrassing when you become more concerned with yourself and forget about them and what's happening around you."

Enough is Enough

Disillusioned by such experiences, Ronni decided to reapply herself to organizing within the local Israeli community, seeking to create a space in which programming relating to such issues could be highlighted and discussed in an open and critically-minded environment. After several false starts, she finally got the backing of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (a humanitarian organization which works to prevent Israeli demolition of Palestinian civilian homes) to proceed with the project. The result is Daila — Hebrew for "enough of" — a term that's used as a prefix addressing the project's various concerns: Daila kibush (the occupation), daila racism, daila sexism, daila homophobia. Dayeinu!

Based in a renovated commercial space that was once home to a makolet (mini-market), Daila is a small, almost unnoticeable venue situated amidst the ultra-trendy bars and cafes lining downtown Jerusalem's Queen Shlomzion Street. Part-blackbox theatre, part-salon, part-bookstore, Daila plays host to a myriad of events, from indie rock and hip-hop concerts, to film screenings and one act plays, as well as presentations and meetings facilitated by various local social action groups. The space has been open a mere seven months, and on the average "night out" can be found overflowing with guests.

ICAHD had initially wanted to open up an outreach center for the Israeli public, and had turned to Ronni, who was hunting for work after leaving her position at the AIC. Ronni had determined she no longer wanted to be a part of the NGO world, which for many of the reasons she lost faith in the direct action movement, she views as having "destructive" qualities. "A lot of the NGO world is self-producing bureaucracy rather than actual productive work," she says. "So much energy is directed towards writing financial reports and setting agendas rather than contemplating the needs of the communities they're working with. They become disconnected from those communities. That structure became very problematic for me as far as the work that I wanted to do for social change.

"So when ICAHD turned to me and said they wanted to open an outreach center, I said, 'Here's what I want to do. If you like it, I will be very happy to do this.' What I wanted to do is not open just an outreach center about house demolitions — because I don't necessarily think that the Israeli community is going to take any more interest in house demolitions than policy in Jerusalem just because there's a center about it — I think that if you want to do outreach which is more sustainable and meaningful in the long-term, you need to create a cultural and social meeting place for people who are working on issues of social justice and human rights that is able to bring in all the active members of [local social justice and human rights movements operating in Israel and the occupied territories].

"The idea was to create a space where these people could meet on a personal level and not just a political one. From my experience, organizations have tried to combine social struggles in Israel with the struggle against the occupation in the territories. What it usually comes out as is 'Here we have a group against the occupation, let's tie it together with a group for social change in Israel, and have a meeting together to put out a joint statement.' And well, great, but once your joint campaign is over, very little is continued and I think that has to do with the fact that these connections aren't built on personal relationships, but rather ideological ones. If people would meet on a personal level where they just get into a conversation and say 'Wow, we have a lot in common. Let's do something together,' they're much more committed to each other than they would be on just an ideological level.

"So basically what Daila's trying to do is to make that center and that space possible for these interactions. What we're working on continuously is trying to bring these communities to feel that they are a part of this space. This means that communities can come and take over the space and use it as a home for a specific evening or a specific event, but they would feel themselves an integral part of it. This is something you have to build in the long-term by getting communities to come and use the space and become acquainted with it. Of course there are some communities which immediately adopt it, because it's something that is very obvious to them, or something they're very used to. People who are very involved in international activist movements are very familiar with this kind of cultural center or 'infoshop.' To people who are doing community work, those who don't leave Israel and go on these magnificent speaking tours, this is not something that they're all that familiar with, so there's a little more work to be done getting them involved in the long-term."

Of course, in addition to addressing Israel's various social action movements, Daila is geared towards addressing the Israeli public itself. Thus, "We try to create a pretty space that's fun to hang out in that also has some fun things happening in it that are not just political but are just about having fun and hearing good music, or supporting local independent artists. In that sense, we're trying to draw in the wider public that's not necessarily active so that they can make a connection through the space, and become acquainted with the different organizations and the different issues that they're confronted with once they're here."

"It happens all the time: Random people come in here off the street because the space looks inviting to them. There's something that's happening with the political connotation and so they may ask a person at the bar or standing next to them what's going on and they wind up having a four-hour conversation on the topic. I think that's what it's all about. It's not about the people running the space, but about the people who are in the space itself."

"My biggest fear was that if I knew 80% of the people in here, then it would be a failure. I didn't want to know anyone who came in through the door. I don't mind knowing some of them, because they have some relation to me, or the people I work with. But we never imagined that 80% of the people who come in here would not be people who I'm acquainted with. Some I may know their face, but they're not my friends or my buddies or people who I used to work with. I think that's really huge. I never imagined that the people who volunteer here would be people I hadn't met previously, but actually met through the space. I think, for us, we never imagined it would be this successful. We already have over 1,000 people on our mailing list. It's not anything that we would have expected in the first six months."

Still, despite its success, Daila is threatened by economic challenge and is fighting an uphill battle against a municipal bureaucracy which does not generally favor institutions of the sort. "We're not able to be financially independent at this point, that's for sure. We have a lot of bureaucratic issues with the municipality we're facing now [regarding live performance and food & beverage licenses]. We can't really depend on selling tickets and drinks in order to sustain ourselves because we can't cross a certain level that pushes us over the non-profit line into being a business. Right now we're completely dependent on foundations. We started with the support of ICAHD and two European foundations which are actually both Christian, which to me is a problem. I think that money should come from the local and U.S.-based Jewish communities. This space is about the Jewish community in Israel and Israeli society and I would feel much more comfortable if Jews were there ones who were supporting it rather than non-Jews.

"The question I'm facing right now is 'Who is Daila responsible to, in the end?' Who owns the place? The people who run it, but also the people who pay for it. The more foundations give money and the less the community gives money, the more responsible we are to foundations, which to me is a problematic structure. So in addition to reaching out to Jewish foundations, we're also trying to create a community-based membership. We would like a larger percentage of the money to come from the communities that are using the space and so that means we're also responsible to giving them something back."

"I personally feel much more responsible to the Jewish community, and think we should be much more responsible to the Jewish community, and supported by the Jewish community for the work we're doing, rather than the Christian community in Europe. I think that transition, to me, is very important in the sense of what does this space look like, who are we responsible to, and what are our goals, and who is supporting our goals. I believe there are enough progressive Jews out there for whom this project would be of great interest."

Identity Politics

Ronni's feelings of responsibility to the Jewish community might surprise those who are under the impression that Jews who actively oppose the policies of the Israeli government are somehow "self-hating" in character, being either that they loathe their own identity, or they loathe their fellow Jews. For Israelis, who do not share the same relationship to their Jewish heritage as those in Diaspora communities, the issue is simultaneously more complex and more straightforward.

"My Jewish identity was something that wasn't very relevant to me for so many years because I live in Israel. In Israel I'm Jewish by default and it's not anything I need to be aware of or conscious of because it's a given. It's not like being abroad where you're also categorized by your surroundings. Here I'm categorized because I'm a woman, because I'm Ashkenazi, because I'm either fat, skinny, rich, poor — issues that have more to do with class and ethnic background, so that the question of my Judaism comes out that I'm secular. If I'm secular, basically I'm Israeli. The fact that I'm Jewish is default. So it's not anything I've necessarily had to question.

"However, in the territories I felt that all other aspects of my life ceased to exist. When I was there, my position was to come in solidarity with Palestinians to basically defend myself as an Israeli or to deny myself as an Israeli — to distance myself and say 'Well, I'm a different Israeli from what Israelis are' or to continuously be like, 'Sure, I'm Israeli, but I'm the good Israeli' or 'I'm the good Jew.' That eventually became an issue for me, because I can't only have that aspect of my life be present. Sure, the occupation is something that's very important to me, but on the other hand I am Israeli and that's something that took me a while to realize. I am Israeli, which means that my home, and where I feel most comfortable and most responsible to is actually within Israel. I think the problem in this country is it's too often this either-or situation. It's very hard to be able to contain both these realities simultaneously."

"I grew up in a completely secular family, even though my great-grandparents were ultra-Orthodox way back in Europe. The main culture I received was from my grandmother's family [the only surviving familial remnant following the Shoah], which was part of the Reform movement in Germany. But they were also somewhat much more Orthodox in terms of keeping kosher. My great-grandfather was a kosher butcher. And so I grew up in a relatively traditional family in the sense that we kept a lot of the Jewish traditions. Holidays and things of the sort are still something very significant to my family.

"For me to miss out on Shabbat dinner is sort of unheard of, but not because it directly has anything to do with God and Shabbat, but more because we view it as something traditional and communal for our family. The Jewish tradition is very meaningful and present in my family, specifically due to history and the fact that my grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, and so all of this became all the more significant in light of questions like what does it mean to remain Jewish and to remain alive and to keep those traditions going today.

"Through my activities I spent a lot of time abroad at speaking engagements, talking about the situation in Israel, talking to Jewish communities and also non-Jewish communities there. Those experiences made me look at my definition much differently. Once I go abroad, the society or the situation I'm in relates to me completely differently. Once I'm abroad, sure I'm Israeli, but I'm also Jewish, and what that means is that my relations to the calendar, or to my lifestyle, or to the food I eat is completely different. Not because I'm Israeli, but because I'm Jewish. That communal and that traditional part of my Jewishness all of a sudden becomes something that's very present and very important to me. Once I go abroad and become a minority in a non-Jewish community, its very significant for me to be able to mark Jewish holidays and have them be something that's present and active in my life."

Zee Germans

A few years ago, Ronni visited Germany as part of an exchange program organized between German and Israeli artists and activists. Though she had visited the 'hinterlands' previously for speaking engagements and other activities, something happened on this particular occasion that would alter the course of both her and her family's lives.

"By the time I met this guy," she says, motioning to her partner Till Rohmann, a charming and handsome young buck with inescapably Aryan features, "I was also involved in a lot of other projects. The same friend I'd jumped on the tank with and I were trying to organize radical queer techno parties. When I came to Germany all of a sudden there was this guy there who was interested in getting some DJs over here, and maybe doing some collaborations." The two were introduced by a mutual friend, and both a collaboration and a budding romance soon followed.

"And that's how we met," smiles Till.

In Jewish circles, the taboos surrounding such a relationship are rather unwieldy. It is true that German-Jewish relations have come a long way since the Shoah. But have they come this far?

"I think our first meeting point was not necessarily 'that one'," says Till. "Of course it's also something that's always there and is always between the lines for obvious reasons. But I think Ronni was kind of tired and fed-up and had a lot of question marks roaming about above her head concerning her activism, and it was the same for me. I've been involved in various different campaigns and struggles regarding anti-fascist movements, anti-racist movements, and was always trying to combine more cultural and artistic involvement into activism in Europe, specifically in Germany."

"[For various reasons] I had become really fed-up with the activist world, and I think that Ronni was sort of also at that specific point also, and we were both feeling quite uncomfortable with the places we were in. I think that what was a very important point in the first place to meet. And through this process of discussion we were also touching on a lot of different issues regarding my history or my family background — being a non-Jewish German with grandparents involved in all imaginable crimes that the Germans committed during that period of time."

"I was involved in a lot of projects involving Holocaust education and commemoration as well as directly supporting survivors in Poland with medical aid and psychological aid, fundraising for them, and organizing tours of concentration camps and death camps with them and youth of my age. And so this historical issue was something that was already pretty huge in my life."

"Through meeting Till," says Ronni, "and actually having Till coming into family, with my grandmother getting old and my grandfather passing away, it all of a sudden triggered a discussion that had never existed in my family. Sure, I knew that I was from a really yeki background — my family had a history of being in Germany and then fleeing before the Shoah — but it was not anything that I ever gave much thought to.

"To my generation of liberal-left youth in Israel, he Holocaust is something that is so socialized and part of the institution of the state, you almost can't relate to it anymore and you actually feel you need to protest against it. Everyone is seen as this awful victim of the Holocaust and the whole world is still against us. If you're on the liberal-left end, you're actually trying to challenge that and say that the whole world is not anti-Semitic, but that the Jewish state today is committing real crimes against the Palestinians and that this is a fact. Whether or not there is anti-Semitism out there relating tot his topic has nothing to do with it. The occupation is a crime and the way that Palestinians are treated is a crime. So I think that a lot of our battles here are about changing how the Holocaust is viewed here, and claiming or reclaiming for ourselves that we are not just a third generation of victims. There's life beyond the Holocaust.

"Only through my meeting with Till did it actually become something very present in my life, and also for my entire family. With Till entering my family and building trust with my mother and my grandmother, German was suddenly spoken again in the house. My grandmother started to speak of her previous experiences and eventually last year we took a group trip to Germany to go see my grandmother's village and where she grew up. Only through this process have I actually learned to recognize that this has a huge impact on my life today, and who I am today.

"It has also helped me to be able to understand the real meaning of where Europe is today, and how the history of World War II and the Holocaust affect the status of Europe today. It has given me different tools for understanding how people in Europe are reacting to issues that have to do with Israel and Palestine and Jews. If you had talked to me about three years ago and said that there's a new anti-Semitism today which is growing in Europe, I would've laughed in your face and said, 'You're just a Zionist. You're just indoctrinated to think that there's anti-Semitism everywhere in order that we can continue to sustain our lovely Jewish state here.' Today I'm able to make a differentiation. Here, I'm not worried about issues of anti-Semitism. I'm worried about issues that have to do with social justice and issues that have to do with ending the occupation. But once I go abroad, there are serious issues of anti-Semitism and racism in general in Europe that stem from a really awful historical place that is still very present. These things are, of course, changing and developing and taking on different faces, but they exist and I can at least, today, admit these two things exist simultaneously."

A Sides, B Sides, and C Sides

This evening, C Sides begins in Jerusalem — a three-day festival of electronic music and media art featuring a number of notable participants from the Israeli and German artistic and musical communities. The festival will have two stages with roughly 60 artists performing over the course of the event, including the notorious Miklataklitim, Pacotek and Agitpop crews — all of which are staples of the Jerusalem underground scene — as well as an array of German DJs and artists of similar repute in their native land. The festival is a cross-cultural attempt at international community building.

"Through our friend Ronen in Tel Aviv," says Till, "and also Ronni here in Jerusalem, I met a number of other people who were involved in the art and music scenes here, and I wound up performing here. It was a pretty interesting experience for me. The sort of music that I'm spinning, which is more or less this slow and calm experimental minimal techno, was something that was relatively unheard of here at that point. Israel is sort of super-isolated. There's no distribution of smaller labels and the only thing that reaches this place, other than in a very tiny community, are the mainstream productions from Europe. Other than that there is nothing here at all. There are almost no record shops here where you can buy vinyl, and the music that I'm dealing with is not distributed here or is just released on vinyl. People here also can't afford turntables. So it was actually an interesting experience because I was playing in front of a few people who had a huge question mark above their heads. They didn't know what the hell kind of music this was, because it was too slow for being techno in their perception. It wasn't house and it wasn't trance. And that actually led to a relatively big process in the electronic music community that got people more interested in this kind of music. So I started coming here very frequently and very often — like every few weeks — and I also arranged for some of the artists in my fringe group and some of the producers and DJs to come here and perform here, and the other way around — to bring some of the people from here to Germany and to do some joint projects there.

"Ronni and I came to realize that all of the artists who came here were people who also had a certain awareness and who had an interest in this place specifically. Some more, some less. But I think that topics and questions we were facing within these exchanges — within these trips, and tours, and playing here together — were always sort of similar. So we developed this idea of making this a more established project.

"Most of these trips were self-funded and improvised. There's no real money because there's also no real infrastructure here. There are just two or three clubs in Israel who can afford to bring international DJs in and they usually bring super-mainstream crap. So we thought it might be a good idea to have a more sustainable, more formal platform to also discuss a lot of things pertaining to social and historical responsibility combined with having nice parties together. This could be a framework for building a bridge between Europe and Israel.

"The media art and electronic music scene in Europe today is very vibrant and very sustainable and so we want to connect the artists living and producing here to that scene. Due to the political situation here, people are very isolated, people are poor, and they can't just go abroad four or five times a year. There are barely any Israeli artists who are releasing on European labels, and if they have a label here, it's not distributed there with some really small exceptions. So we want to do something bigger that's more sustainable that involves social, political and historical consciousness and awareness, but that also brings people here from within the artistic community in Europe for an educational process so that it can have a multiplying effect on the European artistic community. We also plan to bring some of the Israeli artists participating to Germany later this year for the same purpose."

It's a grand idea, and one which has been well received by both its German and Israeli participants. However, potential funders have been less enthusiastic about the project, missing both the significance of the topics at hand, as well as electronic music and media art — genres which are lost on an older generation.

"We completely ran out of funding," says Till. "We were rejected for countless grants. The problem that we face with this project because it's not dealing exclusively with the Holocaust, and it's not an academic research project, and it's also talking about the situation here and the obstacles of living here. So it's not a project about 'the peace-loving Germans' coming to the Middle East to try to teach the Israelis and the Palestinians how to break down walls. A lot of these projects get a ridiculous amount of money which are completely awful. We fell between the gap because we're trying to talk about things in a contemporary manner and in the present tense, instead of past tense. We want to talk about the impact that history has on our personal lives and the obstacles that we have to face. And the foundations just weren't interested.

"Another problem we had to face was that the people involved in these foundations are usually our parents' age and they have no clue what media art is about or what electronic music is about—"

"Or the idea," chimes in Ronni "of combining electronic music and video. People usually ask us, 'How does it work to have both a DJ and a video screened at the same time?' This idea that people are electronic musicians using electronic means, which is not only a DJ but actually musicians performing with electronic means or electro-acoustic means is just really an un-understandable concept for people of an older generation, except for a few who were involved in such things years before I was born, but they're usually not at the head of foundations. In Israel, where they're really behind on this issue — not as far as what the community is producing, but as far as the cultural institutions are concerned — the only things people say to us is well, 'Will my kids enjoy it?' It's not anything they could ever pick up that would be relevant to them or interesting to them. 'So it's an acid party?'"

Things were no more hopeful on the German side.

"Even with all the anniversaries we had this year," says Till, "like 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, 60 years since the ending of World War II, and 40 years of diplomatic relationships between Germany and Israel — the main art and culture foundations in Germany didn't support any artistic exchange between Germany and Israel. They put a lot of effort and money into research and quite a bit of money into projects in Ramallah. But there was no funding going into any projects like ours."

Ronni and Till were finally able to pull of their festival however, thanks to both Hazira and private donations from individuals within the German-Jewish community.

"We got one big donation from one woman from the Jewish community in Germany," says Till, "because she believed in the project and—"

"—thought that it was really crucial for discussion today," says Ronni, "for Germans and the German-Jewish community, which is very different from the Jewish community in the US. The Jewish community in Europe today has very few survivors, then families that have actually stayed in Europe, or who returned after World War II, and then ex-USSR citizens. It's a very different community from the one living in the US. As far as political or financial power, it's still a very small and weak community and one not very attached to Israel or things of that sort.

"There are still a lot of stigmas about what Israel is like, especially since the discussion of Israel and Palestine is so consuming in Europe. So, it's important for us to bring people who are community leaders, or musicians that have some sort of leadership role in their fringe groups here for this exchange because it has a multiplying effect.

"For everyone who's come to Israel to collaborate with us, it didn't matter what their opinions were beforehand — they were from all different sides — it was nothing like they ever imagined. Everyone thought something different, but no one's expectations were met. It was always something completely shocking for them."


Whether or not the foundations or the general public "get it," the German community's leading underground artists are starting to. And as cultural tastemakers who set the trend, they're perhaps the most important community to be reached. Ronni and Till may be struggling in their mission to bring this awareness to the institutional world, but they haven't allowed that to prevent them from getting things done. For the fact that it's happening, C Sides is already a success. It will be a testament to hope and humanity were it grow into an evermore successful and influential project in the years to come.

Here's to seeing the other side of things...

For more information, visit csides.net. To hear Till's music and to find out about his upcoming performances, visit glitterbug.net.





Random Image

"כמעט שכחתי" מזכיר את הנכבה ביום העצמאות ברחובות ת"א וירושלים


Sun 25 September 2011
Tue 20 September 2011
Mon 19 September 2011
Sun 18 September 2011


Syndicate content Features

Syndicate content Newswire