On Uprooting and Re-Rooting of Human Roots, In Her Footsteps

 In modern times we often experience the uprooting and re-rooting of our roots. We move from one city to another, from one country to another from one continent to another. At times we move for a known and defined period of time, at others for unknown and undefined periods, and at times we uproot and re-root ourselves in new villages, cities and lands again and again. At times we relocate by choice but at others it is forced upon us by war or other predicaments.

In our family we have re-rooted both by force and choice. My father as a kid had to escape his hometown Ioannina in northern Greece to go in hiding in Athens in 1943 at the time of the Nazi occupation of Greece. Since then he has re-rooted and lives in Athens.

At eighteen I left my hometown Athens, to study in Israel where I replanted my Athenian Jewish roots to Jerusalem.

Even when there is a choice involved, uprooting oneself from ones' family and circle and creating a family of one's own at a geopolitical, cultural and social distance from the source family is not an easy thing.

It is to this sense of uprooting oneself that I identified with in Rana Abu Fraiha's documentary film titled "In her Footsteps." Produced by Ibtisam Mara'na Menuhin the film follows Rana's mother, Rodaina who is sick of cancer and wishes to be buried in Omer, the city she "fled" to from Tal-a-Sabeh with her Bedouin husband Aoudeh in the dead of night.

Rodaina and Aoudeh wanted not to be apprehended by relatives, as should their relatives had realized they would not have approved.

I could totally connect. We had also uprooted ourselves and daughters from the comfort of our home and family in Greece. Our re-rooting was a pioneering and entrepreneurial act in the spirit of Rana's family.

We moved to Israel to join a community of religious and secular Jews in the Negev, which felt to us like manifesting the Ben Gurion vision of making the desert bloom, and live the communal life in a kibbutz with the focus being the children's education, community building and entrepreneurship.

In the documentary, Rodaina forcefully uprooted her husband daughters and sons from the Bedouin Tel Sheva, and re-rooted them in the Jewish town of Omer in the Negev. Rodaina opted out of Tel Sheva and into Omer, so that her daughters and sons would get a good education and an egalitarian upbringing. Her girls would be thus offered opportunities and the expansion of skills that are only reserved for boys in the more patriarchal Bedouin culture.

Rodaina, the mother who is the protagonist of the film, was also the protagonist of her and family's life. She made choices on where to live based on how she wanted to raise her daughters. In the film Rodaina mentions she specifically wanted daughters to show fellow Arabs how to raise daughters to become powerful people, which indeed they have!

And with her choice of re-rooting her family to a Hebrew speaking predominantly Ashkenazi community Rodaina also had to make some sacrifices. Her children's Arabic is not at a top level as they were schooled in Hebrew and now that they are young adults their identity is rich yet challenging, as their Arab peers in Israel and abroad were raised and schooled in a different culture than theirs.

Which takes me to the concept of swimming against the stream. Parents everywhere make choices of how to raise their kids and what sort of education to pass on to their children. We choose as to whether we want to pass on the education that we received or to offer an alternative. And there are those among us who are pleased with what they got and pass on an education in the path of that which they got, and others who are critical with their culture and education of origin, as Rana's mother was of Bedouin culture and opt to educate differently, putting their kids to another track, new path, un-walked path by the family of origin.

As parents we choose what we think is best for our kids. And at times we err, and make corrections on the way and readjust our choices.

When we relocated once again from the Negev to Jerusalem, we discovered a Waldorf school five minutes away from our home. We thought that this was the gift that we would offer our three daughters, an education that was holistic, and catered to the body and soul of the child as well as their mind.

We loved the school and still do, but when two of our daughters opted out, to regular schools in Jerusalem we supported their wish for something different.

Rana's mother Rodaina, who is not with them anymore, was portrayed, as a mother who knew what she wanted for her children and provided what she felt was right. When her daughters criticize her in the film for her choice, she responds by asking them to make their own choices and choose what suits them best.

And in our heart of hearts we know, that the mother's choices were made with a clear head and a loving heart, with her compass being what would be best for her children.

And as Rana and her siblings are not children anymore, they are asked by their mother to turn on their own compass, and choose the life, partner and place of residence based on their own values.

Judging from the title of her film Rana Abu Fraiha is indeed affirming she is continuing the path that her mother opened up for her, and is walking in her footsteps: the path to dignity, the path to empowerment, the path of being in charge of one's life and following one's own judgement and voice all the way.