"Sixty people. One state. Sixty years." The dramatic voice-over at the beginning sounds like the narration of a reality show. All that is missing is the baritone voice that winds up with: "Who will survive?" But there is nothing further from a reality show than the new series "Shishim" ("Sixty") that will debut this evening, on the Yes Docu channel, and there is no one further from the creator of a reality show than Anat Zeltzer, director of the series.
"I have not been able to find myself at Channel 2," says Zeltzer who, together with Modi Bar On, is responsible for series like "Hakol anashim" ("It's All People") and "Bemedinat hayehudim" ("In the State of the Jews"), which have become classics. "Every time I zap there I see someone dancing or singing. They don't count me, or people like me, from even a yard away."
Zeltzer's wonderful series, which is also deserving of the accolades that have been awarded its predecessors, is divided into six episodes, each of which is devoted to one of the decades after the founding of the state. The story of Israel, which she defines as "the seventh character in the series," is presented through the personal stories of six people. "The series is a combination of 'Where were you when ...' and 'What a coincidence,'" the director explains.
The coincidences succeeded in surprising and also shocking even Zeltzer, who worked very hard with her team (researcher Dosmat Seidman, camerawoman Talia Dal-On and others) on researching the shows. Thus, for example, they discovered that one of the figures in the series - farmer Mashka Litvak, from Negba - had been wounded by shrapnel at the Peace Now demonstration at which Emil Grunzweig was killed.
Yona Avrushmi, who murdered Grunzweig with a grenade, had worked for four years in the metalworking shop of Nisim Erez, another of the local figures in the series. The other four people featured are Zipora Dolan, who was born in Poland and is an advertiser and writer living in Tel Aviv; Madlen Vanunu, who was born in Morocco and lives in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem; Adel Manna, a historian born in Majdal Krum, who lives in Shuafat; and Zeev Tene, a food engineer and singer, born in Poland, who lives in Ramat Hasharon. The series is a "biography of six people," as she defines it. "They took me into their homes and it was as though we had always been there," says Zeltzer. "All of their family albums are in my office."
What the six share is that they were born together with Israel (if not in Israel) in 1948. They were 10 years old when the state celebrated its first decade; they were "army age" during the Six-Day War, and their children were of that age at the time of the intifada. Their parents died during the decade when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Each stage is more symbolic than its predecessor.
All of the interviewees were asked similar questions and they are filmed telling their experiences in a chronological order, according to each decade of their lives. Their stories intertwine with one another and with that of the state. "The collective experience is woven into the personal experience," explains Zeltzer, and she gives an example: "And then came the war. And then there was the Eichmann trial."
Sometimes the personal supersedes the public, as in the case of Maneh, an eloquent and impressive individual, who relates that he was waiting to watch Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's landing in Israel on television, and exactly at that moment his son Fadi took his first steps. Which utterly distracted him from the historic event.
Zeltzer, who also teaches film documentation at Sapir Academic College, is interested in "intimate history," as she defines it. She is 49, the mother of twins. The series, she agrees, is reminiscent of Michael Apted's series "7Up" - "but from the end to the beginning. We are dealing with telling the political, military, social and cultural story. This series was initiated by Giora Yahalom [formerly head of the documentary department at Yes - R.K.]. In parallel, she, Bar On and their team are also working on a series that wil be shown on Channel 8 for Independence Day and another series about 100 years of Tel Aviv, which will be shown on Channels 10 and 8.
"Our major series deal with these topics. Our archival materials, which are taken from local news broadcasts, are our 'shards,'" she says. "This time we looked for a different way to tell the same story. I said to myself, 'If I see one more black-and-white frame of the Six-Day War, I am going to shoot myself.' So there aren't any frames like that, but there is Nisim Erez recalling that his commanders were angry at him for not killing prisoners, and Zipora Dolan recalling that she rode in a jeep with a commander and saw corpses of Egyptian soldiers lying by the roadside. The inner memory wins out."
As to how the protagonists were selected, Zeltzer explains that she and the staff looked for interesting stories: "This is a multicultural place and I decided that what interested me was to show how people of that generation are the children of refugees, of immigrants. You can see this very well in the first episode: On the street we spoke Hebrew, at home - Polish. They lived a double life." Or as Dolan demonstrates this: "When the sun went down on the neighborhood, you could hear the mothers calling, each in her own language: 'Pancza, do domu' ('Pancza, come home," in Polish) or 'Moishe, dute la casa' (in Romanian)."
Only one shouldn't form the impression that this is a nostalgic series. There is nothing Zeltzer loathes more. "People interpret the things I do as nostalgia and I get annoyed. I worked for hours to create a context so people would understand that this is part of a process. There is also a degree of cynicism here. The protagonists do not remember things with longing, except maybe Erez."
But he, a Jewish settler from Ofra, also doesn't recall everything with longing. Erez, born in Casablanca, remembers that in the country-wide exams that were held in his day at schools in the eight grade to determine scholastic aptitude for high school, the passing grade for Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern European origin) was 80 and for Mizrahim (Jews from Middle Eastern countries), it was 65. He rebelled against the reverse discrimination and demanded of the principal whether he had also received a passing grade on the Ashkenazi scale. "You would have passed in any case," the principal assured him.
Zeltzer was very impressed by Erez and his family. "It doesn't matter how many children are running around underfoot there in their home, and I'm not talking about two or three, but rather nine or 10 - everything goes along quietly and without noise. I, who can't manage with two teenagers, was full of envy," she admits. "When I left there I said to him, 'You've failed in ideology, you've succeeded in raising children.'"
Celebration of frankness
The protagonists conduct a dialogue with the state. At first it is loved and admired, and then comes the Lebanon war and the Jewish settlements in the territories and they ask where we went wrong. In the last episode there is a farewell to Israel, each of them speaking about his or her own disappointment.
"I'd be prepared to join a celebration like this, a celebration of frankness," says Zeltzer. "The message is not optimistic; there's a sense of disappointment. In the fifth episode Madlen Vanunu (sister of Black Panther activist Reuven Abergil) tells about a letter she sent to Yitzhak Rabin, in which she wrote that she did not want her children to serve in the territories. None of them believe that they will see peace in their lifetime. Nisim Erez knows he will be evacuated. I filmed him on the ruins of Amona. The feeling is that 'I'm already done. The state still has a lot of work to do.'"
The manifestations of this are evident in everyday life. "Mashka, for example, is a fervent fan of Hapoel Jerusalem. Today she is already reading the sports pages before the news pages."
Zeltzer does not, however, think that this testifies to the normalcy of the state. "They have just tired of it. They love and hate this place very much. They won't leave the country, they feel its pain, they worry about it, but they are disappointed by it."
The director also identifies with this feeling: "I was brought up to love this country, its landscape, but I was not able to teach my children to love this place. My daughter, who is a senior counselor in the Noar Halomed Vehaoved youth movement, is traveling to Poland now. To my surprise, she loves the country more than I do."
One of the conclusions of the series, Zeltzer notes, is that "family is everything. If a person of 60 talks about his mother and father as though they were here yesterday, that says that this is everything." She is referring, among other things, to Zeev Tene, who understands that he "was born into the open wounds of his Holocaust survivor parents," and only allowed himself to engage in music after his father's death. "The parents are present at every single stage. It doesn't matter whether it's Adel or Zeev - both of them cite their parents at every important moment in their lives," she says. One dreams about them, another visits their grave and regrets that there is no one to be proud of her, another recalls an insult that smolders to this day. "Their parents are inside them all the time. Everything is under their skin. It trembles and overflows."
To a certain extent, the eighth character in the film is Zeltzer herself. "In Zipora I could see my mother," says Zeltzer about her mother, Shosh Weitz, the theater critic at the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, who passed away in 2000. "Zipora says, 'I was a little girl who gave birth to a little girl.' My mother was 20 when she gave birth to me. Like Mashka, I am experienced in disasters. I, too, lost my brother. Unlike Mashka, though, who has shut herself in since that day, I have pushed the bereavement away. My brother was 16 when he was killed in an accident. This is apparently the strength of children - my twins were babies when that happened.
"It's not simple to enter into other people's lives," adds Zeltzer. "Zeev asked me, when is there going to be a film about you? My answer was: 'Never.'"
Asked if a decade from now she will make the seventh part of the series, Zeltzer says: "Maybe, I hope so."