The Mosaic Institute is proud to have once again co-sponsored a film at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. On May 10th, his first day, MGA 2016 Summer Intern Akshay Sharma attended the screening of “Women in Sink.” Below are Akshay’s reflections on this award-winning film documenting the life experiences of women visiting Fifi’s, a particular hair salon in Haifa, Israel.

“Women in Sink” sought to peel away the layers of obscurity and national politics that often mask the everyday interactions between peoples of different faiths and ethnicities in Israel. With a particular focus on a women’s hair salon in the city of Haifa known as Fifi’s, director Iris Zaki, in cooperation with the salon’s owner Nawal, adopted the task of washing patrons’ hair. Zaki used this intimate task as an opportunity to engage the women in conversations about relations between the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities in Haifa.

Their conversations revealed that there is a definite disparity between personal experience and national politics in Israel. In fact, there was general sense of lamentation and regret about the extremism that had gripped Israel-Palestine relations in the last decade or so.  The women were acutely aware of how discrimination between faiths had evolved during the course of their upbringings, against the backdrop of the often divisive rhetoric dominating Israeli national politics and Israeli-Palestinian relations. However, it also became clear through the conversations that, for the most part, this discrimination was neither actively pursued by any of the interviewees, nor did it affect their daily life. Perhaps these women’s experiences were relatively shielded from the broader narrative dominating Israeli-Palestine relations, because Haifa is a diverse city that is generally seen to not have the same level of ethno-religious tension other similar urban areas in Israel have had.

The comments made by a Christian-Arab teacher stood out to me the most. In her conversation with Zaki, the teacher revealed that mixed classes among children (no segregation between faith or ethnicity) are very effective in promoting tolerance and mutual understanding between children of different backgrounds. Because this interaction started at such an early age, difference is not seen as the basis for discrimination because the children bonded on a more fundamental and human level. Maybe this sort of educational model is what has made Haifa a vibrant and relatively peaceful city. Either way, it points to the power of youth in fighting intolerance and discrimination, as well as the role of education in empowering these youth.

“Women in Sink” as a title points to the crucial role women have and should have in education and politics. The exclusively female perspective adopted by the film, across a variety of lived experiences by women of different faiths, exemplified a consistent strain of tolerance and openness among the interviewees with respect to ethnic and religious diversity. However, it might have skirted around more of the difficult answers that might have arisen during the shooting of the film. Even so, Zaki was able to communicate through this unique format that difference is a viable solution to much of the discrimination that exists in this middle-eastern region