I saw the most amazing documentary last night called Strangers No More. My neighbor across the street told me about the film yesterday and I thought I would never make it. It was to start at 7pm. When my husband walked in at 6:55, I ran out the door. This was a film that I knew I had to see. I remember when it won the Oscar for documentary short last year, and it got my attention then. I also love when there are documentaries and quality films playing locally, and the JCC in Scarsdale is a hop, skip and a jump away.
The film is about a school in Tel Aviv where children from forty-eight different countries and diverse backgrounds come together to learn. Many of the students arrive at Bialik-Rogozin School from the Ukraine, Egypt, Nigeria, Darfur, Ethiopia, to name a few places, fleeing poverty, political adversity and even genocide. Strangers No More follows several students’ struggle to acclimate to life in a new land while slowly opening up to share their stories of hardship and tragedy. With tremendous effort and dedication, the school provides the support these children need to recover from their past. Together, the bond between teacher and student, and amongst the students themselves, enables them to create new lives in this exceptional community.
The school is so dedicated to these children. It starts at the beginning of the school year and follows the children until the end of the school year. The principals and teachers find out the history of the family when the children arrive so they know how to approach the child, and what resources to put into place for them. They are so invested in each child’s future and want to make it better for them, better from where they come from. They also want them to learn to love Israel, but it’s a challenge at first. Not only are they taken away from the land they come from, they have to learn a new language. But it’s language what brings the kids together.
The film revolves around 3 children in particular. Each has come from very difficult circumstances. Esther saw her mother shot right before her eyes. She and her family needed a safe place to turn, and Israel took them in. There are many children who who have recently come from Sudan; 60 alone last year. Mohammed, age 16, saw his father die right before his eyes. His eyes are full of sadness, yet have hope in them. Yohannes is from Ethiopia. For a while, no one is sure why he has learning disabilities, but eventually the school realizes that he needs glasses. One teacher buys him a bike. All these children needed was a chance. To live. Freedom.
According to the film’s official site, “Together, the bond between teacher and student, and amongst the students themselves, enables them to create new lives in this exceptional community.” It really is a lovely love letter to Israel, a country that originated out of dire circumstances, when after the Holocaust millions of Jews had no place to go. The school has opened its arms to children who have nowhere to go. In the end, they give them life.
The film was directed and produced by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, whose Simon and Goodman Picture Company is based in NYC. Goodman was in attendance after the film and told about us about how she came to make the movie and about the process itself. She said that the film is airing on HBO in the fall. She is now working with the Israeli government to encourage filmmakers to come to make films in Israel. Next week she is taking her Oscar to the school to show the children and to keep the story alive in the minds of Israeli citizens.
Next week at the JCC Jewish Film Series in Scarsdale, NY, they are showing Barney’s Vision (Wednesday, June 22nd, 7pm). The film starts Dustin Hoffman and Paul Giametti. The film spans three decades of one man’s life. On June 27th, at 7pm, they are featuring the New Yiddish Cinema, a screening of clips and a lecture. You’ll find me at both.
Disclosure: I was not compensated to write this review.