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San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Zrubavel’

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Yvonne Greenberg

LA JOLLA, California — The first film ever made by Ethiopian Israelis,  Zrubavel, a drama, provides great insight into their way of life, about which many Israelis have had  heretofore little interest in exploring.  Kudos to Shmuel  Beru, also an Ethiopian Israeli and its filmmaker, writer, and director, who at the age of eight courageously walked across the Sudanese desert with many Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel.

Zrubavel involves an Ethiopian Jewish family that immigrated to Israel.  The film focuses on their religiosity and caring for and about their children and grandchildren and their future. We sense their friendly nature, as they share the Shabbat dinner with friends and friends of friends. 

The movie begins with aspiring adolescent filmmaker Yitzak (Daniel Beru) introducing his family and describing his street where black, white, and red people live, and his resentment over the overbearing presence of police in case there is trouble. His orthodox dad wants him to become a rabbi. Mom wants him to be a soccer star.  Grandfather Gite, who used to be a colonel, is now a street cleaner in Israel.  There is a very moving scene where Yitzak, feeling sorry for grandpa, finishes the street cleaning, and sends him to eat

Grandpa wants his son Gil to become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but the doors close to them at every school they go to, even cooking school, because of discrimination based on their color.

Gite’s daughter, Almaz, wants to become a singer and choose her own husband.  She has a boyfriend who is a distant cousin, and the family insists on knowing exactly how they are related.    

We delight in Almaz’s  PG love scene with her boyfriend.

However, Beru also shows scenes in his portrayal of the family that are not so sweet.  

The musicality, from rhythmical hand clapping and street dancing to a smaller and even larger combo of Almaz’s boyfriend, where she sings, adds great vibrancy to the film. 

Much more goes on with the family which is culturally enriching and certainly worth seeing.  

In 2008, at the closing ceremonies at the Haifa Film Festival,  Zrubavel won the Sharon Amrani Television Drama Award.  That award is considered by those who made Zrubavel the achievement of an entire Ethiopian community!     

Zrubavel is the first film Beru ever wrote.  He hopes that it will break down the barriers between Israelis and the Ethiopians. 

Zrubavel, in Hebrew and Amharic with English subtitles, will be shown  at the AMC La Jolla on Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival.


Yvonne Greenberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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