Making Up Is Hard to Do

23leora (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
23leora (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
On a day on which 19 Qassam rockets fell on Sderot and 1.5 million Gazans remained under siege - that is to say, on a typical day last month - a meeting takes place in Jerusalem aimed at changing, ever so slightly, this dismal reality. There are16 of us - eight Israeli Jews and eight Palestinians, all women - listening attentively to the guest speaker, who is neither a politician nor a military expert. "Remember, before applying your day cream you should always put on serum," explains Chantal Mazig, a strikingly pretty woman with glowing skin and short black hair, who works for an Israeli cosmetic company. We are in a café in an upscale mall near the Old City's Jaffa Gate, meeting in the framework of a dialogue group called Trust-Emun, whose goal is to break down barriers between us. The morning is to include coffee, cake, a lecture on beauty products, and a beauty makeover in the adjacent pharmacy. The name of this cosmetic attempt at reconciliation? "Let's Make Up." Trust-Emun founder Elana Rozenman, a woman in her 60s whose girlish features belie the ordeals she has lived through, bids the just-arrived Palestinian women good morning in heavily American accented Arabic. "Saba el'hir," says Rozenman, an Orthodox Jew, who was born in Chicago and has been living in Jerusalem for much of the last four decades. The rest of us have come from Jerusalem - both East and West - and from Modi'in, Bethlehem and Hebron. We range in age from our early 20s to mid-60s, Jews, Muslims and Christians, some of us clearly religious, with heads covered; others in tight jeans, hair flowing freely. After we introduce ourselves, our beauty consultant goes on to extol the powers of anti-aging creams and jojoba serums. "You have to be pretty gullible to go for this," whispers the Israeli woman sitting beside me. For a moment I wonder which aspect of the meeting she is referring to. Can we just gloss over our differences with this shade or that shade of lipstick? What kind of foundation can smooth over the scars accumulated living in this violent corner of the earth? My thoughts are interrupted when Rada, a teacher from Bethlehem, poses a question: "Doesn't powder accentuate wrinkles?" Yes, we are absorbed in the most trivial of topics while people not far away are dreading the next barrage of rockets, or scrounging for food. And we are even laughing. "This," says Mazig, holding up a bottle of David Beckham's new cologne, "has a spicy scent that includes paprika." "My husband already smells like paprika," one woman quips and we all giggle. Later, waiting in line in the bathroom, Awatif, a nurse from Hebron, tells me that she works at a hospital in East Jerusalem. "I switched my shift in order to come here today. I think that only women can bring peace," she says, her dark ponytail bobbing. "Women see things differently." I can't resist asking her how women suicide bombers see things. Some women respond to pain and loss in a "twisted way," she says. Her own family, however, encourages her meetings with Jews. "My mother keeps asking me to bring my Jewish friends to our home in Hebron." As we enter the pharmacy, the talk turns from terror to toner. Half a dozen beauty consultants fawn over 16 women, while curious passersby watch through the large windows. And we all know it's not the make-up session that has attracted attention. It is the sight of Arab and Jewish women enjoying themselves together. Rozenman recounts how, recently, another group of Israeli and Palestinian women strolled around the mall together, window-shopping and laughing, and people stopped in their tracks. "The reactions are extreme: Either people say, 'Wow, isn't this wonderful,' or they stare at you with fear and suspicion," she says. Funny how we no longer blink when we hear that a city is bombarded by rockets, or that over a million people are cut off from food, electricity and fuel - that's normal. But what should be a banal activity - a bunch of women trying on makeup - is considered totally abnormal because it involves Israelis and Palestinians doing something other than fighting. Maram tells me, partly in Hebrew, partly in English, that she is a divorced mother who lives in East Jerusalem and that she is studying photography. Anat, an Israeli beauty consultant, is soon chatting with her in fluent Arabic (learned in school), and leading her by the hand down an aisle. An hour later, Maram's green feline eyes have been further enhanced, and she and Anat, and a growing crowd of women, are gawking over a photo album filled with pictures of the man Maram is set to marry next week. "Doesn't he look Jewish?" Maram laughs, as she shows off a picture of a handsome, clean-shaven young man with dark hair. "We believe in encouraging one-on-one relationships between women from both sides," says Rozenman, watching the interactions around her, as a consultant buffs her nails. Later I discover that Rozenman knows a thing or two about dealing with scars. Her son Noam was severely injured in a triple suicide bombing on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem in 1997. "It was a wakeup call, telling me that it was time to reach out to the others who were in such violent conflict with us," she says, "and I felt the way to do that was through women." After two years nursing her son to recovery, Rozenman started bringing together Palestinian and Israeli women through a variety of programs, including the year-old Trust-Emun. Rozenman admits that she has no illusions about reaching "the crazies on both sides." But she believes that by touching Maram and Awatif and Rada she will have an impact on the next generation. "These women will raise their children with an understanding, based on personal experience, that there are all sorts of Jews and all sorts of Israelis. That makes it much less likely that their sons will be recruited as suicide bombers." And through such encounters, she hopes that women like Tova, Miriam and Michelle will bring up their children to know that not all Palestinians are suicide bombers. "It's about continuing to see the humanity in one another," says Rozenman. Meanwhile, layers of anti-aging creams and anti-everything-bad have been applied to my face, along with a somewhat garish blue eye shadow. All of it, the beauty consultants reassure me, is long-lasting. When they're through, they tell me how lovely I look, but in the mirror I see a heavily made up woman who looks no younger than she did an hour ago, but now has blue smudges under her eyes. My faith in the power of beauty products has taken a severe blow, but not my faith in the women I met today. Seeing them face to face, I believe that they too want a better future. And perhaps a little banality and frivolousness can make a small difference in a region that is far too saturated with drama and blood. Maybe it's because I know that aging is inevitable, but I choose to believe that war and hatred are not.