In 1960 Efratia Gitai went to study in London. She had a husband, architect Munio Weinraub-Gitai, and two children; another son had died. She decided to pick up and leave to study psychology abroad. Amos, her 10-year-old son, was sent to Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk for the year. In her letters to him, she addressed him as though he were an adult, giving him advice about life and asking his permission to stay longer. In his responses, he told her about his life on the kibbutz and how he missed her.
"I've been really sad about you missing me too much," she responded to him. "My dear .... both of us are 'Shmutzniks' [members of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair youth movement] - too loving and too dependent on love. Though this is beautiful, I wouldn't want you to resemble me in this dependence. It's definitely a natural thing for a mother to love her son and miss him a lot, but the son has to love his mother less. He has to be immune, strong, a man - right? Not to think so much about his mother: to work, to study, not to look too much to people and not to be dependent on their reactions. Let them say what they want, do their thing and I will do my thing ...
"A person who doesn't wear a shell and a covering on his heart, on his emotions - other people like to hurt him, to attack him ... That's how it is, my dear. This is true; sad but true and therefore, my dear - I don't want you to be too hurt. Don't show people that you are missing your mother a lot. Just be strong and a heroic man like your father. Okay, Amos?"
Today, Amos Gitai, the 60-year-old film director, recalls: "I was a boy from Haifa who had grown up on the Carmel [quarter of the city], and suddenly I was in the situation of being a stranger within a tight society. The people who were looking after me were wonderful, but being an outsider in kibbutz society is not simple. I would say this was the most important period in the shaping of my personality. It's hard for me to stand situations in which everyone agrees about everything, so I go in the opposite direction."
The door to Gitai's Tel Aviv apartment is opened by actress Yael Abecassis. The two are working on a scene they are scheduled to film in a few days' time on the platform of a train station in Bulgaria. Gitai asks me if I want to hear actress Jeanne Moreau reading Efratia's letters (and who doesn't want to hear Jeanne Moreau? ) and goes to fetch a recording.
"Efratia Gitai: Letters" has recently been published (in Hebrew ) by Yedioth Books. Edited by Rivka Gitai, the director's wife, this book was published first, last year, in France by Gallimard. It contains the letters written by Efratia, who died in 2004, to her children, her husband, her girlfriends and her father between 1929 and 1994. The letters also constitute the basis of one of two exhibitions the filmmaker has organized at the Museum of Art, Ein Harod; the other is about his father (see box ).
Efratia Margalit was born at the foot of the Carmel in 1909. In 1930 she decided to travel to Vienna. "I and my friends Yardena Cohen, Yemima Czernowitz, Leah Cassel and Hanka Weinberg decided to go to Vienna, so as not to be provincial and in order to study," she related.
"Those women had no fear," her son Amos says today. "They heard there was something interesting like Freud so they went to meet him. They stayed in Vienna for two and a half years. It was a very interesting city, a progressive city with strong feminist movements and psychoanalysts like Adler and Freud, and surrounding it was the conservative Austria that gave birth to what happened afterward. This was the period in which she bloomed. Later she went to Berlin, saw Hitler speaking at the Alexanderplatz and decided the time had come to go back."
In August 1931, she wrote to her father from Berlin: "The fascist dictatorship is filling the air. The political strangulation is felt at every step - and imagine, in an atmosphere like this we have to establish a liberating movement, educating in the light of ideals of freedom and a new society. I have met a number of people among the Zionist activists. The amazing thing is that in them too the spirit is democratic and they have not been poisoned by their country's regime."
In the summer of 1939, Efratia went to Europe again, together with her husband Munio. Amos Gitai: "That year their first son, Dan, died of an illness when he was 2 years old. Until her last day, she kept photos of Dan by her bedside. The disaster that hit them was very tragic for their relationship. To a certain extent Munio's crisis was even more dramatic than hers. The dialogue with her own father helped her heal this wound, and also her wonderful group of girlfriends, who were a terrific sisterhood for her."
In the wake of their son's death, Munio wanted to return to the scenes of his childhood. "The world's clock doesn't tick exactly according to Munio's desires, because the world was getting ready for the war we now know would start a bit more than a month later, on September 1," continues Gitai. "He pleaded with Efratia, and in the end she agreed and traveled with him. He was born in Silesia, he studied at the Bauhaus and he had been surrounded by people like Kandinsky and Mies van der Rohe. Then he was arrested, in June of 1933, with three other Bauhaus students. When he was released, he immigrated to Palestine and, in 1939, despite all that, he wants to stay in Europe - he can't imagine what is about to happen."
Efratia and Munio visited their relatives. "Today it can be said," relates their son, "that on that trip they bid farewell to their families, because afterward they were deported and slaughtered. Munio wanted to stay until October and see the achievements in architecture."
Gitai laughs, and says: "Architects are problematic that way. Efratia told him that with all due respect to architecture, a war was about to break out. She persuaded him to come say goodbye to her and he came to Warsaw to the train station. She had two tickets and he joined her. Therefore, we have the privilege of conversing today."
Yael Abecassis plays his Efratia in the film Gitai is now shooting. "I have made two major films with Yael, 'Kadosh' and 'Alila,'" he says, "and I've really loved working with her. I don't like to do auditions because that's something very kitschy - the director with his sunglasses and facing him the actresses who want the part. This doesn't give an accurate indication concerning the talent of the person sitting opposite you.
"Usually I like to look into a person's eyes and to have a conversation. When I met Yael in the past and we spoke, I thought she would be excellent. I had only one condition: I asked that during the months before the film she not do anything else. That's so she'd get into the character. She cooperated with this demand. Other great actresses I've worked with, like Jeanne Moreau or Juliette Binoche, did the same. This is a way of learning, challenging the intellect and observation."
It is often said you are hard to work with.
Gitai: "In the Yom Kippur War I crawled out of a helicopter that was hit by a Syrian rocket and crashed, and I survived. When I got out of there I said to myself I would do the things that are close to my heart. This means demanding from yourself and others. I think that a director's biggest task is trying to persuade your partners - the actors - to do something they've never done. It's usually comfortable for actors to do a 'number' they've already done. This bores me. As a viewer this doesn't interest me either because I understand they are doing a trick for me that they've already used.I might accept this from magicians who pull the rabbit out of their hat again but from actors - no. There are people who are stressed by this, but what can you do?"
After reading the screenplay of "Berlin-Jerusalem," Gitai's 1989 film about the early Zionist pioneer Manya Shochat and poet Else Lasker-Schueler, Efratia wrote a sharp letter to Amos because she didn't like the way it depicted Shochat and Zionism: "Manya is a militant, strong and revolutionary woman in Russia. She comes to this country (by chance or not ) and here she suddenly becomes the figure of some soft woman, a romantic maideleh ... This is my impression from reading your material. Almost entirely lacking is why the Shomer [defense organization] was founded and why Manya joined it. This wasn't just in a romantic context; there was also some Zionist idea that impelled this organization. There were shots there of the establishment of a commune in order to protect and guard against robbers and murderers, who wittingly and unwittingly tried to wipe out the start of Zionist settlement in the land.
"This group, which Manya joined, believed it had the right to return to the historical homeland. I am not intending any pathos, but that's how it is. To that end, my parents immigrated here and here I was born and you too ... That Zionism was humane. It didn't burn Arab villages and it didn't attack them, but rather also bore arms to defend itself from murderers, like normal people do."
Gitai recalls that when he received the letter, "I said to myself, 'She's really great.' It didn't change my opinion about doing what I think, and after the fact it was one of the films she liked best."
Efratia also wrote in pain about Gideon Gitai, her radical leftist son who has been living in Finland for many years now. "Gideon still doesn't take my opinion into account. With all the awareness I have regarding the generation gap, I've realized that every society and every culture exists when despite the difference there is a bridge, there is a flow of values ... there is a heritage. I am not conservative, but there has to be solidarity and concern not only for the fate of 'cousins,' but also for the fate of your [actual] cousins, their families, friends with whom you've grown up."
What do you think she would say about the book you've published?
"It would have surprised her. And if she had seen Jeanne Moreau reading her letters to a packed auditorium at the Odeon in Paris, she would have looked at her sideways and said to me, 'Really, you've gone too far.'"