במשך שנים מקס חתכה את עצמה עד כדי סכנת חיים . היום, כחלק מתהליך ההחלמה, מקס האמנית הופכת יריעות של פטריית קמבוצ’ה שהיא מגדלת ל”עור אנושי” שעליו היא משרטטת את הטראומות שלה
במשך שנים מקס חתכה את עצמה עד כדי סכנת חיים . היום, כחלק מתהליך ההחלמה, מקס האמנית הופכת יריעות של פטריית קמבוצ’ה שהיא מגדלת ל”עור אנושי” שעליו היא משרטטת את הטראומות שלה
INTERVIEW ABOUT PA1N MAP/TOTAL R3CALL PROJECT
PART 1: AT LAST I AM FREE (Header photo by Tal Weiss)
David Ofek: First, tell me about the project.
Max: First of all, it’s important to know, I speak only for myself and from my experience. In general, it started with the fact that I had a mental crisis three years ago, and a few months later I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.
DO: First time?
M: Yes, I had to decide what to do with myself and with my life and only I could do it. There, for the first time I met a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I was diagnosed, and talked about self-harm. That’s how you began to realize that you are sick and defective. It was very hard for me. I did not want to go on living like this, and as a result the project was born. I do not know how thoughts and ideas are born, but from the moment you start to be aware – you spend all your time scanning your behavior. Suppose you have an urge to injure yourself or destroy everything – you already know this is happening. That’s how this idea is born – I would grow a piece of skin from a tea mushroom and, for this piece I will reconstruct all the cuts.
DO: Restore what?
M: The cuts.
DO: Cuts you made in the past?
M: Yes, I did it for years, since I was 16 And the moment I entered it – I knew very well that the process of leaving it will be very difficult and long. Therefore, I gave myself the time and the possibility to work through it and experience it, so I’ll can get a final closer. Now, I do not continue to injure myself, I transfer the harm.
DO: Actually, you transfer it to that piece of ‘skin’?
M: Yes. I did a lot of experiments until I’ve reached the final result. But even though I did it on the ‘skin’, I used my blood, cause… how can you reconstruction a cut that will look real?
DO: Real… ?
M: I will not use colors, it’s fake. Using blood reflects the truth – the actual level of pain, that’s how it should be.
DO: Let me go back for a moment, just tell me if I understood correctly, the creation itself is actually made up of a piece of ‘skin’ that you have raised, and on this piece of ‘skin’ you reconstructed the scars or injuries you have done to yourself in your actual body?
M: Yes, first I’ve photographed the scars and then I’ve restored them on the ‘skin’ just as it was on my actual body.
DO: And for make it look reliable you add blood…
M: For a reliable look you can use the tools of makeup artists… but it’s not the same as the actual thing.
DO: So why prefer your blood instead?
M: Because blood reflects the level of pain… the trauma.
DO: I’ll just explain why I get confused, this project has a true therapeutic element, right?
DO: Can you explain the therapeutic purpose?
M: First of all the project allow you to understand what happens to you and say goodbye to it – this is a change in consciousness – it’s a drastic metamorphosis.
DO: When you say ‘consciousness change’ do you mean that the person is becoming a person who does not hurt himself anymore?
M: Yes, self-harming is not a ritual situation of cutting the self out of boredom – it’s a ‘state of mind’, the person thinks about it and does it.
M: And to be able to do that, to get from a situation where you are living that life for years, to being a person that does not do it anymore, you have to turn yourself over, you have to clean yourself and understand all things, ‘go deep’ in to your thoughts. Otherwise it will not work, otherwise it is not worth the hard work.
DO: But basically, for this project you have to injure yourself, hurt yourself, it’s a contradiction…
M: That I use blood?
DO: Because basically for the project that is supposed to cure you – you’re hurting yourself again.
M: That’s true… First of all – I no longer do it… But I could not otherwise – I had to use the blood. I actually had a friend who is a doctor, he took a few ampoules and when it was over, I’ve learned to do it on my own without leaving a mark, I would go into the bathroom before taking pictures – taking as much as needed and using. Guy (Guy Ben-Ary) also asked me why I was using blood… everyone said it was crazy… but… I had to take it out – if I did not take it out – it would stay in and it was not worth it, It was stuck – I had to throw it up.
DO: As sometimes say – bloodletting is something is viewed as healthy… So basically every time you photographed an injury and passed it to the mushroom, then there is some story behind, story of pain, story you also told yourself.
M: Of course. Most of the scars photographs made with my friend’s help, but almost all the reconstruction photos I had to take myself, because most people find that very hard to watch. Sometimes it stinks and unpleasant and actually, it’s quite psychotic, and… it was unpleasant to ask someone. Which is also very reflective, that I was alone with it again. And of course I had to go back to situations when I injured myself and analyzed them. And not to do it superficially – but to go deep into it.
DO: But I wonder why all this happened and when it happened – I’m talking about how you hurt yourself… the story in the background.
M: At first I wrote dates for all the scars, but in the end I gave up on it because it is not so significant – and even if I write a date – it also obligates me to tell the story behind it, something I don’t wanna do.
DO: Do you want to give any clue for the viewer about the story? Or is it less significant?
M: The story behind every scar? – No.
DO: Actually, the project itself, is a photographic project of images you did during this work?
M: I do not think it’s just a photographic project because only the finale result is photography – but behind it there’s so much complex work – growing fungus and using blood – that’s far beyond…
DO: Where is the piece of ‘skin’ that you raised with the transfer – is it here?
M: I used it – what you see on the project page – this is a little piece – I needed a big piece – I would cut a piece by the size of a scar – to reproduce it. In the last shot you can see on this project page there are pieces of ‘skin’.
DO: This is the ‘skin’ from the fungus you’ve already cut?
DO: And you saved those pieces?
M: Yes, I keep everything.
DO: Why did you cut those pieces?
M: Let’s say there’s a scar here or a here (Max s points on her body – where there are scars), then I need a piece to cover the scar, for pinning and reconstructing.
DO: OK. So basically every piece like this – is it a scar or an injury?
DO: When do you keep the pieces themselves?
M: In the jar, because if there is an exhibition – I will present it.
DO: Exactly – they can all be displayed. How do you maintain the ‘skin’ on a technical level?
M: I’ll show you (going to fetch a jar). In general, this is a substance that is very special in its behavior.
DO: The fungus or the substance in which it is located.
M: The substance in this jar it’s just water.
DO: What will happen if you take one out now?
M: I will dry out.. (Max brings a skull covered in the skin and David touch it).
DO: Wow – does it’s as strong as skin?
M: It is as strong as animal skin.
DO: Amazing. How long does it take to grow such a thing? How did you learn to grow such a thing?
M: At first I drank it – it’s very healthy – and then I discovered that some British designer is raising it ‘skin’ – and I learned how to do it.
DO: How this mushroom called?
M: Kombucha – the tea mushroom.
DO: Kombucha’s tea – is it the healthy drink you can drink in New York?
DO: How long does it take to grow it? Did you succeed in the first time?
M: First you should grow and then dry it. It took me like two months. Then I’ve started to do experiments – not everything succeeded immediately.
DO: Your job goes into something called ‘BIOART’? What it is?
M: ‘BIOART’ combination of biology and art. It could be anything that integrates biology and art…
DO: Are you the first one who presented something like that to the ‘BIOART’ field?
M: Yes. But ‘BIOART’ is quite a new area and a few people deal with it and there is almost no repetition like in conventional art. In ‘BIOART’ you can be the first.
DO: Now, in the pictures themselves – the first picture is actually a picture of a bar or a pub or a restaurant? Why?
M: (Laughs) This is actually a place on Jerusalem Boulevard – here in Jaffa – this is where I brought the sweets (Max shows a sweets box). We sat there with Oded and our good friend Bert – I also thanked him in the project – he is a captain from Netherlands – a charming person – we drank coffee and orange juice – and somehow came up that I was hurting myself – and then I said those words – I said to myself – “I don’t do it anymore”, and once I said that – there’s no way back.
DO: Why? Was that the first time you say those words?
M: Yes, before that I didn’t talk about it with anyone – I was always hiding. As you can see, there is no stitches on the scars, I’ve hide it until it was healed, and only in the last three years I’ve began to reveal and talk about it.
DO: So in this place you said, ‘I don’t do it…’
M: I said those words, but at that moment I did not know that I would have such an idea… I started to think about it, it can not go on like this… Once there is a trigger – injure yourself or die… it’s a very strong urge… I do not know how I can explain it to people who have not experienced it… but I do not exaggerate… some people know this and they can understand , dealing with that urge and don’t let it happen – it’s like being in a lethal meat grinder – you’re actually, physically, like some epileptic seizure – you’re holding yourself and not letting it happen – it’s very, very hard… very difficult.
DO: Why are you actually injuring yourself?
M: You are ready for anything – just get rid of the mental suffering.
DO: In fact you are transferring your mental suffering to physical pain?
M: That’s the reason I have very strong and deep cuts…
DO: How does it feel to cut the ‘skin’? What was the feeling when you started doing it-when you finished doing it? Feeling relieved? Did you scared before you started?
M: No, I had no fear… I was very absorbed in myself… There was no relief at that moment… Now there is, I’m feeling like I was out of prison… It was not easy.
DO: So what did you feel? Was there any concentration? For pass it the most accurate way… ?
M: I could not be distracted…
DO: You said yourself that every scar also has it own story – you returned it, you did some work around the thing that is not only physically.
DO: Did you feel it cures you? Did you feel that every time you make a piece of ‘skin’ like this – you get healthier?
M: Not at once – it took me almost a year…
DO: The project? Deal with any scar? With all the scars?
M: The project itself, from the beginning of the idea and every work process – took me almost a year.
Yossi Madmony: How many scars you restored?
M: I do not remember how many, I have more scars… but I did not photographed them all. There are also places that are unable of counting. You can see how much there is from the pictures.
DO: Is all there? In the photos?
M: Yes -I did other things also but decided not include them. For example, I took a glass and broke it with my hand and of course everything went inside… I also do not have tendons in some of the places.
DO: Do you used blood in every ‘skin’ pieces?
M: Yes… I had to photograph the majority alone… It’s a whole production. For example, to recover this scar (Max points a scar on her left shoulder) I should have stood in front of the mirror and photographed myself. Later, I would take a piece of it – wet it – for it would look reliable and stick – and then put in place of a blood cut. Fresh blood is liquid and does not standing still… so I have to photograph myself while I’m standing… I hold a flashlight… or put a flashlight somewhere… there is one photograph that I held flashlight in my mouth and hold a camera in my hand. Because I know very well how blood behaves – I found a solution – to use dried blood. I would take blood from myself – waiting until it is a little bit hard and put it on a piece of ‘skin’…
DO: So it’s less liquid…
M: Yes, it is not liquid and also looks like a reliable wound.
DO: Do you follow with the blood on the traces the scar did?
M: For example, like this scar (Max points on her left shoulder) – I put a piece here, make a cut in a piece of ‘skin’ and inside the incision I put the blood.
DO: And then you take out the piece of ‘skin’…
M: I take it down and put in the water, or dry it, and I also share the piece and put it in the water, and I also wash myself…
DO: Okay, and in the water now there are pieces of ‘skin’, pieces of mushroom? Pieces in similar size like the actual pieces in the body.
M: Yes, and it will be possible to use them again.
DO: And so you did – pasting all kinds of places in the body – and what you had to do yourself – is this photography? How did you manage to recover it while you take the pictures, and also make it so nice?
M: Yes, I know it looks beautiful, and actually all my art is like this – it’s both beautiful and terrible, it can be disgusting, but it’s always beautiful, too. For example, the pictures with the scars on the face, chest and shoulder, were very hard to take… For example (Max points on her shoulder) – I should have pinned the piece – for it will stay exactly in the same place – take the blood and put it in a way it will not drain.
DO: I have a question – didn’t no one want to help you – or didn’t you want to ask? Or did you want to be alone? I mean, it was a very intimate encounter? Did you really want to be alone?
M: In some of the pictures (reconstructions) my friend Larisa helped me take the pictures then it did not work out… I realized that I did not like asking, and that people can not help me because they do not know what a scar looks like. For example, I’ve tried to take this scar (left shoulder) with Larisa – she put blood and it ran out and it did not look reliable, and it felt unpleasant to ask – “Larisa put some more blood on”. So, I’ve managed to do it alone.
DO: In terms of the scars you have on your body – is there a scar that is more meaningful for you?
M: I don’t know if meaningful is the right word. This scar (left shoulder) is the biggest scar I’ve ever done to myself, I was already after the crisis and actually after I made the scar I went to a psychiatric hospital – it was the ‘introduction’.
DO: So is this also the last scar actually?
M: Not the last, the last is the cross on the chest.
DO: How much time passed between the cross and the promise – ‘I don’t do it anymore’?
M: After I was discharged from the hospital, I was in a very bad situation – I was in very deep and dark place. I was looking for all kinds of ways to pick myself up, so I’ve started reading Oliver Sacks’s books. His book – ‘Awakenings’ – became a kind of support stick for me – he was like a best friend that understands the world. In the book, the author tells about people who have had experiences unlike me but quite similar. They were in very deep and dark places. They experience things that most people do not even know exists. And this book was also a kind of teacher for me – in terms of skill and responsibility for my work. And as I asked myself – why is it important that everything in the project be credible? – I can not betray the viewer and to lie him, otherwise there is no point.
DO: People who see the project, the pictures themselves – know that this is real blood or they can think that… ?
M: It is written.
DO: As an observer I have a curiosity to understand the pain behind each scar – what was the cause and when. But actually, maybe wisely, and it’s a very strong statement – you are denying me your biography – let’s say that – the biography of the pain. You just say – these external expressions of the inner pain that I’ve undergone – that caused him – things in the world…
M: I will not go into it because it’s too personal.
DO: Why did you decide not to get into it? Why is there behind it – why did you choose to tell it this way and not tell what is behind every scar?
M: It’s very personal – I do not want to expose it. Besides, anything can be a trigger. In the end – you either feel strangled, lonely and hurt and you can not stand it anymore… or you hate yourself and wants to die. The trigger is not so meaningful. It’s a ‘state of mind’.
YM: What is more important to you – the side of the therapy or what the viewer will feel? Has it changed?
M: Everything is important. I do not know what a viewer will feel – it is important to me what tell the viewer, the purpose. This is not just my story – so I made it ‘public’ – so as I said – why did it matter to me that everything would be real. For example, a person with a similar story who is also in a very bad and dark place in life – and I know what it’s like to be there – it’s life in hell – I want to say that you can get out of it and be another person.
YM: If it was not public – would it be a therapy for you?
M: I don’t know, while I take the pictures I would explain to women about the content of the project… It is very interesting and a powerful – because once you tell a person such a thing about yourself – that you’ve been through sexual violence or hurting myself – and as soon as you tell a human being – you see how he responds… And all the people who were around it – no one is disgusted – everyone accepted it and everyone treated me with respect – I think it’s beautiful. It reveals a very beautiful and strong human side.
DO: I think going out public – has a therapeutic meaning.
M: Either therapeutic meaning and prevention of this issue will remain a taboo.
DO: What will you feel in the day of publish?
M: I don’t know.
DO: What do you want to happen?
M: I want it to help other people. I remember the day the magazine’s editor wrote me – I was not happy – I was shocked – my hands were shaking and I started to cry – I did not believe it and I was a bit frightened – I had a hard time accepting it, but afterwards I calmed down – because it’s also a responsibility…
DO: Now everyone, anonymously, can read it and… did you write your email so people will can write to you?
M: Yes, it has to be public and I will feel completely calm and relaxed with it, I have passed the road – I took the summit – the goal is also that the subject will no longer be a taboo – because the society usually still takes it so that the victim feels guilty and tell him that he have to shut up because it is not beautiful and disgusting – I know it and it is not just from my story. This, too, gives full legitimacy to the offender (the person who insists) to continue his actions quietly – which is not right.
PART 2: BIOGRAPHY
M: I’m Max – I was born in another name in Siberia. In this part I would like to give more biography than elaborate things about the project. In fact, one of the reasons why I wanted this part was, because after I started publishing the project and I had some conversations with people – I suddenly realized that almost everyone takes it to sexuality – from the project name – sexual mental physically. Sexual violence is only a very small part of the recipe. I grew up in a single parent family – our mother raised us alone – three children – my mother was a heavy alcoholic. When I was 9 years old, she got stomach cancer – she did the surgery – the one that some of the intestines are put in the stomach and actually sees some of the intestines – and the person can’t shit normally anymore – she has to shit into the bag that is permanently attached to the place where the wound is open.
I took care of my mother for a year – that is, I watched this open wound and cleaned up shit, so I did not take it hard – because when you’re small you just get things the way they are. But then I actually thought it was OK – not a tragic issue – a person stopped suffering – it’s okay and there’s no reason to cry… After my mother’s death I moved to another house – my aunt’s – she was a serious mentally ill – she did beat and abuse me very hard on a daily basis – sometimes my whole body was blue. I’m not angry, not at aunt, not at Mom, not at anyone.
At the age of 10, I’ve started to to run away from home – I would run away in winters at night – no matter when – no matter where – just run away. Usually I would run away to my older sister – sometimes I would sleep in the street or in house of people. I used to read a biography of Werner Herzog and he says he used the phone for the first time at the age of 17. I say that I cleaned my mother’s shit at the age of 9 – and that does not mean I’m whining – that means that’s what was. I’m telling you all the details, but It’s marginal – I’m actually drawing a picture. The where and what I grew up in – it all built my personality… People sometimes do not understand where it comes from – why my works are such hard and extreme – with blood and dirt – very sincere and expressive. Every day I would hear – you’re an idiot – you are a retard… Sometimes I could not shower for days, I was such a filthy child that no one wanted. I did not finish school because I did not have a permanent home – that’s also why I am an autodidact – everything I know – I studied alone… There were times when I was with my older sister who lived in the university dormitories – and in age 10-11, instead of going to school, I would go to the university, it was actually fun, I mean, all of these things always left me out – I did not have any friends at my age – I did not have a home – everything was the other way round – all this contributes for the alienation, I felt like an alien. It’s not because I want to be that way, but that was the way I experience life. Now I’m actually dealing with the past. Everything floats and I deal with it – it can sound exaggerated – but really, is a daily war. I hope that now what is written on the project page is clear – ’ sexual mental and physical’ – that sexual violence is not the main thing.
DO: When did you arrive to Israel?
M: At the age of 21.
DO: Did you decide to come?
M: Yes. Another thing – I do not remember myself at all until the age of 6 – I do not know why – I did not manage to ‘break’ into this area – as it does not exist. It makes you feel that you have no ground under your feet … you float between the sky and the earth like a balloon. My aunt had a very neglected house – say in the evening if she had to go into the kitchen – she had to jump quickly to the kitchen – turn on the light and wait until the roaches were scattered from the walls (David laughs). She also had a neglected bathtub. I do not remember how long – but half of the bath was full of black and stinky water – it was not possible to take water down in the toilet, it was life in shit and life in the garbage…
DO: When you came here you thought you would have some kind of redemption?
M: Actually, I came out of Zionism… I was not disappointed – you know – almost every ‘Oleh Hadash’ who comes to Israel and has no support – goes through all the shit – the bad attitude who saved only for new people.
DO: Did you go to the army?
M: It was too late – but I volunteered to the police – as a photographer – at first I photographed police-army operations and then in the ‘Animal Watch’ unit – it’s like in the United States.
DO: So the sources of your work was actually the childhood in in Siberia – and less than what happened here in Israel.
M: Yes, definitely for the childhood. It could have sound strange that a person reaches the age of 40 and still stuck there – but that’s what there is. On the other hand, I try very hard to deal with it and not to stay ‘there’, and fight it – it’s not very easy and not easy – it’s like rebuilding yourself.
DO: Since you arrive Israel, did you return to Siberia?
M: I was there twice and I had a bad experience.
DO: Does your aunt was still alive?
M: My aunt died when I was 16 years old after a car accident, I also treated her – she died in the hospital – poor woman.
DO: Is your father there yet?
M: My father died when I was 17.
DO: Is there anything else you would like to tell?
M: I want to end with the fact that I’m supposedly considered an artist – that’s my name at least – although I do not call myself an artist, but that’s probably what it is. And because life is very, very difficult for me, I’ve tried stop doing art, force it to stop, but I did not succeed – I realized after that there is nothing to do – I will continue to do art even if I do not call it art. Art is actually an opportunity to breathe, spill things out. Sometimes you feel that you have accumulated a lump in your belly and you have to spill it – otherwise you’ll suffocate – so my works are that. This is actually the background image.
DO: I’ll ask you a question – if it’s not comfortable, then say – about sexual exploitation – you said – it’s not just that – does that mean it was in the past?
M: Yes – a friend of my mother for years bothered me and I went through gang rape at the age of 16.
DO: What shaped you in the context of art is the fact that you have to take care of your mother in age 9…
M: It’s all – I’m sure you can not get out a crumb and tell everyone it’s the main reason… it’s like a mountain built – it was built of all sorts of materials – I was built from these materials. I do not think it is possible to separate it or to exclude – because of the rape or something like that.
DO: How you describe your art? Therapeutic act?
M: Totally therapeutic – I have turned my art to strength. Especially this project … in fact, that’s what can you see in my last works – and I also got stronger – really much stronger – standing steady – a non-scattered personality – a uniform personality.
I want to say a few more words about the project. It’s a story about my experience. I have gone through some difficulties in this work. It was like being in hell for 3 years, but still move toward the goal. I knew exactly what I want to tell, and worked it over and over again and again. Everything that I know – I learned by myself.
This work… let’s say – it’s a story not about a girl who was raped, beaten, humiliated – no! It’s a real Life story! Life! And this project has so much meaning and has no definition – has no definition like Life and Existence.
And this story would promote other things, still yet to.
I did it not only for me.
(Words by Th3Max and Minotaur)
Interview about “Unchained” (“Matir Agunot” original title) / TV Series 2019.
Translation from Hebrew to English: Adi Levi.
I participated in a small role on the TV series “Unchained”, and have felt that the plot was very current and personally touching. Questions awoke in me about the borders between my personal position and the social agenda – questions that I wanted answered, and thus came the idea of interviewing the creator of the series.
“Max. Born in Siberia, lives and works in Tel Aviv-Yafo. Freelance artist who works in research, study and involvement, science and art. Max specializes in BioArt (BioArt is art that literally works in the continuum of biomaterials, from DNA, proteins, and cells to full organisms. BioArt manipulates, modifies or creates life and living processes), but her vast artistic vocation spreads upon many styles, different means of expression and diverse artforms. Max’s creations tend to be radical in nature, and her use of unusual materials such as blood or jellyfish carcasses reveals deep layers of trauma, journey and struggle, woven into capturing personal and artistic life. The process of inquiry and obsessive self reflection turns into cruel and expository creations that ecoes a unique narrative.”
M: Hi Yossi.
M: We are friends and are familiar with each other, so let’s be informal. What always made me curious and is a mystery to me – I knew that but never really had the chance to ask – you grew up with an orthodox family in Jerusalem?
Y: It was a family that wasn’t exactly orthodox, they lived in an orthodox neighbourhood, a religious family, but it was a time, during the seventies, when Jews who came from Arabic countries were yet to define themselves with exact titles.The title of religious/orthodox/non-religious were very European and during the seventies the Jews who came from Arabic countries – oriental Jews – hadn’t yet internalized these titles. And because everyone was also religious, that is to say, all of the oriental Jews, it wasn’t like in Europe in the beginning of the 20th century when people radically left religion. In Arabic countries the thing happened 70-80 years later, and gradually, so they (my family) hadn’t defined themselves in any set terms, because we lived in a Jewish-orthodox neighbourhood it so happened that yes, we were in the same school – same everything.
M: Where did your family come from – were they in Israel for generations upon generations?
Y: They were in Israel for a few generations, about 140 years, and they didn’t completely understand the world around them, that there is such a thing as “non-religious” or that there is more than one kind of “religious” orthodox and non-orthodox. To them it was the same, there are Jews and they are all of the same sequence – some of them more religious and some less. That meant that there wasn’t any distribution among separate groups.
M: Weren’t there the same separations and definitions like we have now?
Y: No! There weren’t! They weren’t sharp. Not very sharp anyway.
M: And they didn’t find it significant?
Y: They began to take notice… that was a start. If I was to go back 30 years they wouldn’t at all. During the seventies, however, they began to take heed of these terms: orthodox/religious/non-religious, but still, there wasn’t a complete separation. It’s like today, when they say, for example – you can be straight or you can be gay – you can also be in the middle – on a sequence.
M: Does it come from the modern world?
Y: Yes. The separation is very very dichotomic, very very defined – it’s not something that was back then.
M: OK, so you actually were religious?
Y: Yes. I was religious. From the point of view of the environment I was religious, I was in an orthodox neighborhood, so more or less I was a part of that kind of society. But my home wasn’t… It wasn’t like: we’re orthodox and there are non-religious and we’re hostile towards each other – they didn’t even understand the concept.
M: Does that mean they lived in peace?
Y: Yes, yes, that’s how it was for oriental – Jews, at least, but what I’m saying doesn’t apply to the Jews that came from Poland and Europe at all.
M: They came because of the war – otherwise they wouldn’t have come.
Y: Lots of them. What I’m saying really only applies to that kind of family that mine was who were oriental, so, even though I became non-religious that doesn’t mean it was a trauma! It wasn’t like in orthodox families today, where if someone leaves religion it spells disaster!
M: Yes, even now there are special homes and non-profit organizations for people, especially youth, who left religion.
Y: Yes, who left religion and because of that were left with nothing.
M: That their family cursed them, threw them out… boycotted… and now they have nothing.
Y: True… true… In oriental families, however, it wasn’t like that, sure it was tough when the kid stops going to the synagogue, stops doing what the parents tells them, but they weren’t cut off! No sudden major changes, that was a bit different. So that was a relief for me.
M: So you weren’t going through any trauma?
Y: There was one, but tiny, you disappoint your parents… disappointed your father…
M: But nothing like throwing you out and boycotting you?
Y: No no no, it was more like disappointing someone.
M: OK – we’re all a disappointment to our parents…
Y: Yes – in some shape or form – yes.
M: So, you’re in touch with your family?
Y: Of course! Of course! With all of them!
M: Cool! So it’s not at all like what I assumed (Max smiles).
Y: (laughs) So that’s it. But like you said – orthodox society – most of society in Israel these days is orthodox – that’s a major trauma if someone leaves and becomes non-religious. I know about that. I know about a lot of these.
M: I also know about people who left their family – and were forced to live in the street.
Y: Yes, true, there are a lot of these – sure. During the course of the series we talk about that too. Without major spoilers, from episode 8 it starts to acknowledge the world of people who left religion, but you’ll get to that part.
M: OK. This moved me very very much. Also, the performance of Rabbi Joseph… And I read about Avigayil who is actually also from a religious family – she left the religious world.
Y: Right. So this is a funny story. I’ll tell you why, because she left the religious world, and the guy who plays Rabbi Joseph, he repented! Yes, this is really funny…
M: Yes, you can see it in Avigayil’s movements, in her performance, she knows that world.
Y: Yes yes.
M: I know of your creations, “Redemption” was also about religious people, and about the word/term “redemption”: where did you get the idea for this piece? Where did it come from? Was it a commission – or was it all you?
Y: It was an idea that sat with me for maybe 15 years… it’s a story that I heard from someone – an insurance agent. An insurance agent came to sell me a policy – an insurance policy, he was so boring… and during the conversation he told me that he got married a few weeks ago, so as not to bore myself further I asked him: “well, how did you meet the mrs.? where have you two met?”. He told me that he met her at some friend’s party, fell in love, fell for her immediately. And after a few days he got her phone and told her: “I fell in love – I want you to be my wife, such mad love, in an instant…” so then she cried, she suddenly cried. And so he asked her: “why are you crying?” and she says to him: “listen, I have also felt something for you, but I’m agunah (which means chained woman – a woman that cannot married again – according to the Jewish law a woman can get a divorce only if her husband agrees). And furthermore – her husband disappeared, ran off. He was half-criminal so he fled… she was religious, which prevented her from performing intercourse and remarrying. Because she’s religious, you see, If she ever brought a child into this world, this kid would be branded a bastard. And being a bastard is something that would hamper him in many things – in the Rabbinate (the supreme Jewish religious governing body in the state of Israel) – he would never be able to get married.
M: If he will be religious…
Y: Yes, if he was religious, but also if he wasn’t… and that disturbed her because she was like that, and so, she told my insurance agent all that, and he said – well – I find your husband. And she tells him – no chance – we sent a detective… applied for the help of the Rabbinate… there isn’t any chance, and even if you do find him, he will never divorce me because he’s crazy. But my insurance agent did learn, did research on that husband. He even managed to contact his father, and discovered that he’s in the USA, working at a gas station, and he went to look for him. Because he knew him so well, as a result of the research, he managed to convince him to get a divorce. OK? He was like a psychologist. That’s a bit like the work of a psychologist.
M: Yes, Rabbi Joseph is also a psychologist.
Y: Right, right. And then he returned to Israel and married his wife. That’s the story of my insurance agent that was interesting to me, and that’s the foundation of the series, but the series touches on many things that interested me, like the place that… I won’t call it “feministic”, but the place that’s tied to women’s rights – which in Judaism, and in society in general, being a woman is being in a kind of prison, that’s more obvious in religious Judaism of course. It actually touches the idea that a woman is the property of her husband.
M: Actually, all these parts of the series, when I see them – it startles me! I feel as if I’m on fire!
Y: You mean the part where you can’t touch a woman during the time she’s having her period… that’s basically the prison.
M: As if she’s some kind of a womb with legs, a walking womb!
Y: True, true. So the series moves between two places: first he loves her truly, but on the other hand, as you said – she’s a walking womb.
M: Because he’s religious. He’s religious in his mind. Even if he is a smart guy…
Y: True, but he cannot, and wouldn’t abandon this concept.
M: It’s by definition for him. I’ll grant you, he’s a very smart guy, very emphatic…
Y: True, she’s having her period, can’t be touched for 4 days and also a week later she’s impure, and those are the rules in the Jewish religion, and that’s reality.
M: I know.
Y: But they don’t see it like you do, they tell themselves a different story. That imprisonment contributes to many aspects of their lives…
M: I’m aware. Because that’s what the Torah says, and therefore there must be a justification.
Y: That’s right, so that’s something that’ll interest me too, the religious law about the treatment of women and this place of the story that I heard from the insurance agent, these two places of that prison. Even the physiology of the woman is a kind of prison – her period is what I mean. That place interests me and from there the idea came, and I offered that idea to the TV channels, and it wasn’t accepted, for a long time it wasn’t accepted. But finally the public access station took it, because you can offer it again and again.
Y: I began writing this 15 years ago…
M: Wow! It means that you’re dragging this thing…
Y: Yes, but not obsessively. It wasn’t an obsession. So it came to me and I remembered it in the back of my mind. Back there it sat. From time to time it arose but it wasn’t an obsession. And then, as mentioned, when the new public access station was established, things turned out OK.
M: OK… ummm… there are scenes in the series… where you besmirch Rabbi Nachman! You besmarched him!
Y: Yes, yes – I wouldn’t call it “besmirching”, but those parts were the hardest to watch for those who are religious.
M: You were besmirching. Now that I know about your family and how you got out scot-free and that you’re still in touch. Yet, In the series you don’t give a crap, you show the dirty side religious-Israeli society, disgust included.
Y: That’s right. There was criticism, even harsh criticism, but I also have sympathy towards them.
M: Sure. Me too, but still – you mean business – you show these things.
Y: Right. Listen – there is no such thing in art – no such thing as meaning business. Once you mean business – you find yourself in showbiz rather than in the world of art.
M: But still, not everyone has the courage to do that, like not many people have the courage to present what I’m presenting.
Y: Sometimes my family shows discomfort. They look and say “nice, nice”, but I understand that they’re not always comfortable. I have certain worries because I care about what they’ll say, not only the family – the orthodox society in general. Even reading a talkback of an orthodox person who was hurt – it does something to me. But I see the compensation for that in the fact that the series does not hate them – you can’t hate them.
M: I see that.
Y: OK… let’s say that there is such a thing – Communism – a Communist ideal. You can separate between the ideal and what happened in the USSR – which was cruelty and madness. I think that you can separate between Jewish philosophy and things that happenes in Jewish society – like you said: the Rabbis are corrupted – true! There are many corrupted Rabbis. But what enraged orthodox viewers the most was that I insulted Rabbi Nachman. It was hard for them, that was the most annoying part (both laughs), later there will be even more anger-inducing things, in regard to Christianity.
M: At first I studied all the episodes thoroughly. And for some reason decided to watch “The Passion of the Christ” again, a very harsh film, where the Jews killed Jesus. I think it’s one of the best movies, it gets the message across.
Y: You mean the Mel Gibson movie? Yeah, great movie, but it didn’t get recognized enough, for fear of angering Jewish viewers.
M: Because they were afraid. In some countries they only sold tickets to Christians and not to Muslims, feared that it’ll cause a wave of anti-semitism…
Y: Yes, but it’s not politically correct that movie, that was the problem.
M: And when I saw it, I wept through the whole thing – devastated from crying.
Y: Solid movie.
M: Very solid… so Jews killed Jesus!
Y: Eventually, yes.
M: For religion – rather, in the name of religion.
Y: Eventually in the name of religion. They let him die in the name of religion, yes.
M: They didn’t let him – they killed him!
Y: Whoever knocked the nails, you mean?
M: No! Whoever decided to execute him – the Jewish priests, they even offered them Barabbas (the killer) in his stead.
Y: Yes, I would have said that the Jews didn’t save him from death, that’s the definition, that’s what it says in the gospel, word for word – he didn’t make stuff up, did Mel Gibson.
M: I know – I studied the subject thoroughly. Let us continue… And of course: money, Jewish=MONEY!.
Y: Say, are you Jewish?
M: Half, but according to Halakha (collective body of Jewish religious laws) I’m not. I’m also a bastard.
Y: According to Halakha you are not Jewish.
M: My father is Jewish. And I was born outside the law as well.
Y: Was your mother married? Not divorced?… But because she’s not Jewish, you aren’t considered a bastard!
M: Sure – I’m considered nothing. Don’t know what I am, I don’t care for that. I know my father was Jewish and I was born outside the law. But even in Russia they were always saying things and pointing at me – bastard! Smelly Jew! All the time! My aunt was fanatical communist.
Y: Aunt on your father’s side? Mother’s side?
M: Mother’s side. She hated me. When I was very little she would grab me by my feet – shaking and shouting: “You are a smelly Jew!” “You are a bastard!”
Y: Was that in Ukraine?
M: Russia – Siberia. She was also very violent towards me.
Y: Yes, you told me.
M: Well… she was a sick woman (mentally). So, money! Let’s talk straight – Jews=MONEY!
Y: It’s a thing, yes.
M: But it’s a very big thing. Even on the series, that part with uncle Shimon – a dying man, a sick man, and what do they care about the most? Money!
Y: True, but you know – the moment it’s done humorously – people have an easier time looking at it.
M: You know, even when I’m walking down the street – and I don’t have a smartphone… I turn around, looking, listening to what people say – or on the bus – most conversations are about money.
Y: Could be something in Jewish history, at least in Europe Jews were forbidden from being farmers. There was a law that stated: Jew can’t be a farmer, so actually Jews passed into all the jobs that involved money. And it could be that this sociology has something to do with that. Jews couldn’t work in more than one place – so they mostly went to commerce and banking.
M: And then they evolved in the genes.
Y: I don’t know about the genes – but in sociology – in culture. I hope it’s culture, because if it’s the genes than you can’t change that. It’s a cultural thing.
M: They are very successful in this field, too.
Y: Yes. They were a minority for all these years and needed to be very sophisticated to succeed.
M: And that’s the reality of what’s happening right now. Terrible horrific disgusting reality – of corruption, of lies… orthodox people visiting hookers… in Uman for example everyone already knows what they’re coming to get, some of them, and you know – an entire society – with a severe case of Pedophilia and sexual violence towards children.
Y: I guess that the phenomenon is more common there because of all the prohibition among other things.
M: But it’s a religious person! So what does it matter???
Y: You’re right, I’m not trying to defend anyone, rather I’m trying to explain where it comes from. There is, in that society, a large gap between what we see on the outside to what’s actually happening on the inside. In that respect, religion turned into a kind of bourgeoisie. What’s bourgeoisie? That on the outside everything seems alright – and on the inside, what you can’t see – not so bad, OK? So it’s important for them that people see how they wear tzitzit and payot and a beard. They perform all of the mitzvah, and there are of course many beautiful things there, but on the inside – much less important to them, that’s when religion turns into bourgeoisie.
M: But it’s not inside anymore – it’s been outside for a long time – that stench has come out already.
Y: Because you can’t hide things. That’s what’s so amazing! The gap between the inside and the outside. The series reaches these places – from episode 8, 9,10 that’s what the series deals with: that there is an unbelievable difference between the inside and the outside. On the outside you see very religious people, with orthodox attire, and on the inside you see something completely different, that’s interesting that’s amazing.
M: It’s terrible too.
M: It also means that if it’s not one then it’s two, and if it’s an entire society…
Y: Don’t know if it’s the entire society, I think that 30%-40% of people there don’t really believe in God.
M: I think so too.
Y: And if that’s the case, it means a third of them are purposelessly doing stuff, doing the mitzvah…
M: Like robots.
Y: Yet, thinking about it deeply – I think that these things exist in a non-religious society as well, be it less obvious.
M: Give me an example then.
Y: OK – say left-wing supporters, that say “we’re all for equality and acceptance for Arabs“ but aren’t really… they’ll have a hard time having an Arab neighbor. There are such cases amidst the Israeli left-wing supporters.
M: Umm… I don’t know… I know Oded (the closest human) and he’s left-wing and has no problem living near Arabs – because he’s honest.
Y: We’ll always have honest people. OK, but let’s say that part of the people from Herzliya Pituah (home to many wealthy Israelis, it is known for its hotels, restaurants and high-tech industry, and has the largest marina in Israel. It is considered one of Israel’s most prestigious neighbourhoods) that are left wing supporters or Meretz (a left-wing, social-democratic and green political party in Israel) supporters. I guess they won’t agree to living near Arabs.
M: No! they won’t! No way! They’re hypocrites!
Y: So the matter of “inner” and “outer” appearance is there too.
M: Not only in Herzliya Pituah – but they’ll not go to live near an Arab.
Y: OK, so the same goes for the outer appearance, and the lie.
M: OK, you gave a good example.
Y: I’m sure there are more examples.
M: I understood you. You actually answered the question – why did you choose the subject that is actually feminist in nature – “make her free”.
Y: Yes. We have on one hand – a protagonist who’s job is to make women free, but on the other hand he does the same thing to his wife, until it blows up further down the line… There’s a kind of irony here.
M: Yes. Come episode 7 he’s… we’ll see, there’s a clue that he’s beginning to see what he did to Hana.
Y: True. That he’s actually – making her go through a rape, yes – since episode 7 it starts being difficult. And episode 8 makes things even clearer.
M: I know that she’s been through rape because I was part of the cast – so I heard during filming. Because the entire story is that they can’t have an intercourse – there’s something there…
Y: True, that’s the last thing we learn about her.
M: You had the intention in that creation to pass a certain message to the Israeli society? To the viewers? Did you think about that?
Y: Yes! There always is, you always try to say something… largely, the message is – that Jewish Halakha is something that hasn’t changed for a long time, and if it wants to be relevant, it has to change. Now. And I wanted to say that out of love – not out of negativity… not out of – “let’s throw it into the trash”.
M: Time for a change?
Y: It has been time for more than 200 years. I’ll tell you a little about Jewish culture… Say, in the Torah, in “Book of Exodus” or in “Book of Leviticus” – there’s a rule: If a boy doesn’t do what his parent tells him to three times and he’s unruly – then he should be taken and stoned – says so in the Torah.
M: What do you mean? With stones?
Y: Kill him. Throw stones at him until he dies. Do you want me to show you where it says this (Max laughs)? I can show you.
Y: It was a rule that was common more than 3000 years ago.
M: And it’s still valid?
Y: No! 3000 years ago it was common throughout the world… the east at least. Yet, 2000 years ago it didn’t fit with what people felt was right… back in the time of Jesus Christ… a little before his time actually. The wise Jewish philosophers understood that it’s unthinkable, and they changed the ruling. They changed a law that existed in the Torah – they changed it – however illogical it sounds, but they had the influence and the wisdom – to change the rules, without really cancelling them. To turn it into a rule that will never actually be taking place, in practice it got cancelled. They cancelled it elegantly – they didn’t say – let’s throw it into the trash, they said – true, that law exists, but it can never actually be carried out. They had found something – like Jews do – found a bug in the system. And rules continued to change – in correspondence with the times – until about 1000 years ago. 1000 years ago – boom! It stopped changing entirely. Up until 1000 years ago Judaism was the most liberal thing in the world, it was more liberal than Islam, of course it was more liberal than Christianity. But 1000 years ago it got stuck in place – because books were written that were the “final word” – it’s called “laid table”, “laid table” is when a very important Rabbi, Joseph Karo, took all the already set rules and put them together into one book and gave it a stand – “Final”! Absolute! And that book actually summed up all the rules of Judaism – and signed that! Now there is more than one of these books – that pretty much closed all chances of change in Jewish law. In the end orthodox Jews of today are like the orthodox Jews of the year 1200 or 1300 – it hasn’t really changed. So then, the series shows the absurd, trying to show that it doesn’t fit. That there is something about these rules that has to change.
M: The outfit doesn’t fit anymore.
Y: Exactly – it doesn’t fit today’s world. It’s one message that’s directed more towards religious society. But I think that eventually the series deals also in the relationship between a man and a woman in general – outside of the religious world, showing the power games. It’s not exactly a message but it is to show them – listen – there are power games, it’s about controlling others. That’s it for the message. It’s not didactic… What exactly is the greatest bug in Judaism today? When all is set and done It’s the position of women, that’s the place where Jewish religion is stuck at. In the 18th century. The 19th century was when the women’s position in society began to change, but Jewish culture was stuck there. In, say, Christianity a woman can’t be a priest – so Christian society is also stuck. Catholic Christianity… Islam of course. But Judaism defined itself – here’s what’s funny – it defined itself at the start as the religion that changes, that readjusts itself to life, it’s DNA began as a religion that can change with the times, and at some point it broke down.
M: OK, fine,everything breaks.
Y: Everything breaks – all the ideologies.
M: So actually Rabbi Joseph – you can see he’s a smart man who was born religious, and he… has this restlessness – he’s searching all the time, he got into this job, that of “makes them free” because he’s that way.
M: So actually, in episode 7 the doctor that asks him – what’s that rush to know everything? What are all these questions? What is he after?… Why did you make the character that way?
Y: Because he’s a character that’s actually ambivalent – torn – derived from “to tear” – something torn apart inside. On the one hand, like you said, he’s a Rabbi and should act according to Halakha, on the other hand, he has something – in his subconscious, that goes against that – he’s drawn to the non-religious world – there’s no doubt about it – he’s drawn to forbidden things. He’s conflicted between the desire for freedom and the desire to follow the law. He has aspiration or desire – to break the rules, but he follows them.
M: He’s undergoing inner turmoil, yes, I understand – me too, am a person exploding with questions.
Y: But you don’t have aspirations to live by the law.
M: Which law?
Y: What counts as normal in your society.
M: It’s not an issue at all.
Y: OK – It’s not an issue for you, social law.
M: They can suck my dick – but there are things that I’ll never do.
Y: For him then, the conflict is between religious rules and his attraction to forbidden things.
M: Society also forces him! He’s under pressure! But I actually liked that he’s brimming with questions! And want to know! And wants to find out… some things he rejected, some he accepts.
Y: Even if he goes by religion and by Halakha, he’s always listening, always trying to learn.
M: I think we should stop here. You know, religion gives and religion takes away… religion is in fact some kind of… it gives you some footing, some security.
Y: Right! Right.
M: You know – like “I have a father now that I can lean on”.
Y: True. This world that is in chaos – if there are rules behind everything than it’s actually not that chaotic. Religion says that there are rules and even though you don’t always understand them, everything works by some kind of plan, and it’s not a coincidence – everything that’s happening. What actually scares us the most in that world? Finding out that it has no rules and anything can happen, and religion gives us a response, gives us an answer – a solution to that.
M: It doesn’t always give an answer…
Y: Which is why people leave religion…
M: But it gives some kind of illusion.
Y: You can call it an illusion… an illusion of confidence, listen, there are religious people out there who actually do ask questions and they approach philosophy and ask the tough questions…
M: I get what you’re saying.
Y: But eventually – at the basis of religion… to which there’s no proof, there is an irrational faith.
M: Like when in “The Passion of the Christ” if you recall – he always calls him father, which is above the understanding. Also, when Rabbi Joseph is at the village in Ukraine he talks about it.
Y: True! So you get something that’s beyond your understanding, and you decide to live your entire life by that – that’s a crazy decision!
M: You know – Nietzsche said – “God is dead”! That’s that, it destroys your entire world.
Y: So, if there are people who believe, say, instead of God – in family – that fixes the world for them too: I have a family and I need to get money to raise the children, that fixes your world nicely. There are people who believe in money… I have order: anything costs money… Next year I’ll earn some and slowly I’m making progress… and that’s the discipline. That’s what that person believes in.
M: Yes, It’s scary – It’s scary to be without it! It’s comforting. You need courage or whatever to live without all those things.
Y: That’s right.
M: I was brought up without all those things… brought up without… and still has that feeling – the feeling of having no solid foundation, no basis.
Y: I’m not that good – I was raised having a solid foundation… a family that wanted the best for me. They are good people and I learned to love and respect them even if I don’t agree with them. And when i look at that – It’s amazing!
M: Yes it is amazing.
Y: You’re right – the scariest thing – is having no solid basis in life. The series slowly goes in that direction in the next few episodes… his world begins to crumble… until he’s – terrified. As his world slowly… crumbles down.
*Special thanks to Nadav Frankowitz and Eshy Lavi for generous help in editing text.