The documentary film "Strangers No More," about a Tel Aviv elementary school, won an Oscar on Sunday for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film tells the tale of children from 48 different countries who attend the Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv.
Many of the students have escaped genocide, war and hunger to arrive in Israel at a school where "no child is a stranger."
The documentary focuses on students - some of them veteran Israelis and others refugees from Sudan and other African states - as they acclimatize to their new lives and try to put the horrors of the past behind them.
The film provides a glimpse into the hardships some of these children have experienced in their homelands such as poverty and political persecution.
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."
The film was directed and produced by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, whose Simon and Goodman Picture Company has received four Oscar nominations and three Emmy Awards.
"Many things make this school special," principal Karen Tal, who accompanied the two directors to the ceremony in Hollywood, says in the film. "This the only school of its kind in Israel: a public school whose students come from 48 different countries - Christians, Muslims and Jews together. In our school we welcome every student, regardless of where they came from, regardless of their background. Children are children, and in education there is no such thing as 'strangers.'
"The film is about our school, whose children have come from other countries - the Philippines, South Africa, Nigeria, and they're all Muslims, Jews and Christians and live together in peace," Esther (Asta ) Aikafahi, 12, who became the star of an Oscar winning movie overnight, said yesterday.
Esther is now in danger of being deported. Her father, Immanuel Aikafahi, told us "we were hoping very much the movie would win, but we didn't think it would attract so much attention. It is hard to fluctuate between such great happiness to such great sorrow when the deportation is still pending."
Mohammed Adam from Darfur, who graduated from the school last year, also appears in the movie. But his role does not ensure his future in Israel.
"I hope that after this film every one of the children facing deportation will stay in Israel," he says.
Meanwhile, the school's staff is trying to make the best of the festive atmosphere created by winning the prize. Television screens in the yard broadcast the film in an ongoing loop, in case anyone hasn't seen it yet. The word "deportation" has been replaced, at least for one day, with thoughts of cinema glory and red carpets.
"We want everyone who sees this movie to understand how wonderful these kids are, that they have dreams, they contribute to society and want to join the army," said Mirit Shapira, deputy campus principal and director of the high-school classes.
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