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Israel Film Festival honors Israeli and American Zionists on (and behind) the screen

by Benson Simmonds | November 7, 2017 

Benson Simmonds on the Red-Carpet premiere of the
Israel Film Festival in Beverly Hills
The 31st Israel Film Festival opened in Beverly Hills on Sunday November 5th with a gala, opening- night screening of director Yariv’s Mozer’s transcendent documentary "Ben-Gurion, Epilogue." Mr. Mozer discovered a lost candid interview given by an 82-year old Ben Gurion (in 1968), who had withdrawn from politics five years prior. Mozer's documentary is a fascinating account of one of Israel’s most remarkable statesman.
Adam Berkowitz and Jeffrey Tambor

What’s distinguishes the Israel Film Festival of Los Angeles from other Jewish film festivals is that the mandate of the founder Meir Fenigstein and festival chairman Adam Berkowitz (Co-Head of Television at Creative Artists Agency), is to not only showcase films from Israel, but to promote talented Israeli directors, writers, producers and actors in Hollywood. Mr. Berkowitz has been instrumental in helping introduce both American and international audiences to Israeli films and hit Israeli TV series' such as Fauda and Mossad 101, currently on Netflix. 
Yariv Mozer 

Along the premiere's red-carpet festival luminaries spoke with JooTube. Responding to why was he feels it important that international audiences see his compelling documentary about David Ben-Gurion, Mozer told us his hop that people all over the world “will be inspired by the way he [Ben-Gurion] takes the bible as a moral guide to the Jews in the land of Israel in the remaking of the Jewish state. Current leaders rarely share their vision about the values of the Jewish people and the goals in the land of Israel," he added vaguely.

I challenged Mozer to share how making his film personally changed his life and attitude towards his beloved country and his response was candid and heartfelt, reminding me of Ben-Gurion himself in the documentary. 

Mozer replied, “This was my first real opportunity to get to know David Ben-Gurion. Before he was a picture that hung on the wall in school. He was the voice declaring the state of Israel. Now he has given me clarity as to exactly why I continue to choose to live in Israel and why others need to return to Israel. Ben-Gurion states clearly that our mission is to be a nation of higher values. From the prophets he takes the message that we as a Jewish people chose to be a nation of higher values and we need to reclaim that responsibly as we move forward.”

In screening his documentary, I was consistently impressed with Ben-Gurion’s genuine humility and no-nonsense down-to-earth sensibilities. He was a great statesman who chose to withdraw from politics and live simply on a small, new settlement in the desert. When asked about his personal contributions to Israel, he had no false humility, but stated simply that one man can’t change everything. It was all of the people around him who helped create and guide the state of Israel. The Ben-Gurion we meet is funny, sincere, direct and incredibly wise.

Lior Ashkenazi accepts I.F.F.'s
Cinematic Achievement Award 
Regardless of your personal politics, you have to be impressed by how much Ben-Gurion stayed true to his convictions. When asked about giving away land, he was adamant that he would never give back Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, but that he would, albeit reluctantly, give back all the other territories to have a lasting peace in Israel.

What really distinguishes Ben Gurion from modern day politicians is his resolute refusal to condemn or blame other politicians. When asked about Golda Meir, although Ben Gurion did not see eye to eye with her, but he never says a negative word about her or any of his political contemporaries. He’s direct but never hurtful in any way. It’s impossible not to be inspired by this documentary - by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion himself and by the film’s director Yariv Mozer. May we all be blessed to joyously reclaim our responsibility to commit to living a life of higher values, both personally and nationally.

Jeffrey Tambor accepts I.F.F.'s
Achievement in Television Award

Honorees at the opening gala for the 31st Israel Film Festival included Jewish actor Jeffrey Tambor, who was presented the IFF Achievement in Television Award and Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who received the IFF Cinematic Achievement Award.

Mr. Tambor, 73, an Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor has been making TV audiences laugh for over 4 decades. He’s best known for his brilliant award-winning work as a trans-gendered Jewish father / mother in "Transparent" currently on Amazon Video. Mr. Tambor also received numerous Emmy Award nominations for his work on Arrested Development and on The Larry Sanders Show.

Having personally admired his work for many years, I was determined to ask Mr. Tambor something about his spirituality. I asked if he would offer a bracha to JooTube viewers. I suspected he might be surprised.

My request evoked a genuine feeling of warmth and thoughtful introspection. He clearly took the question very seriously and wanted to be authentic. He spoke with reverence as he said, “be kind, be empathetic, and let’s get through this - and let’s get to the other side. And listen to the children. The children’s heart will tell you what to do.”

I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to give Mr. Tambor a blessing in return. As I blessed him he was touched and jokingly asked if I could follow him around 24 hours a day and bless him. He took a very personal interest, even asking my name. It was evident that Tambor is soulful and kind, both personally and professionally, as well as being spontaneously funny.

Even though Mr. Tambor has received and been nominated for many Emmy and Golden Globes, he revealed that he was nervous about receiving the award from the Zionist organization. When I asked why he said, “I am a Jew - and this is important! I wish my rabbi were alive to see this,” he added.

When asked what has kept him going strong for so many years he replied, “Life is about sharing stories that help people.”

Upon receiving his award on stage at the Saban Theater, he shared a funny story about being kicked out of cheder (Hebrew school) for asking too many questions.

The world is so much richer because Jeffrey Tambor continues to ask important questions and courageously portrays characters who inspire us all to “be kind and be empathetic.”

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