Israeli Filmmaker Wrestles With Demons and Hellish Childhood, and Wins

It was only after the death of her father that writer-director Dorit Hakim found the impetus to make 'Moon in the 12th House,' a film that draws on elements from her own life. She recalls a youth lived in the fearful shadow of an abusive stepmother and how tragedy made her stronger.

Nirit Anderman
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Israeli filmmaker Dorit Hakim.
Israeli filmmaker Dorit Hakim. Credit: Dudi Hasson
Nirit Anderman

Five years ago, Dorit Hakim thought she could lean back and relax a little. She was leading the good life in Silicon Valley, doing well financially, with a husband and three happy children she loved.

Two or three times a week, she’d set aside some time and work on the screenplay of what she hoped would be her debut feature film. She’d been working on it for several years, on and off. She was constantly rewriting, but didn’t feel any sense of urgency.

But then came news from Israel that shattered her state of tranquillity. Notification of her father’s death forced Hakim to return to Israel and revisit the scene of the greatest trauma of her life.

Almost three decades after escaping her parents’ home in Kfar Sava, and a lifetime spent nursing disappointments, anger and hurt, Hakim found herself sitting shivah (the Jewish mourning period) in the living room of her childhood home, grieving her father’s death.

Spending her evenings in her Tel Aviv home, she would dutifully return to Kfar Sava the next morning. She sat beside brothers who were angry at her for not helping them support their ailing father, consumed by painful childhood memories and wondering if she could find the emotional energy that would enable her to forgive her father, even posthumously.

During the seven-day mourning period, she saw some family photo albums she’d never seen before. The images documented the happy days her parents had spent together — ones Dorit had never experienced. Her mother died within hours of giving birth to her, and her childhood was spent in the shadow of a stepmother who made her life a living hell and a distant father who didn’t bother to defend her.

In these albums, though, Hakim found not only the moments of warmth so lacking from her own childhood, but a connection to her father that took her by complete surprise.

Talking to Haaretz, she says it was only through these albums that she discovered her father’s love of photography and ability to take pictures, a gift she shares. This unexpected discovery flicked a switch inside her and galvanized her into action.

Moon in the 12th House trailer

Immediately after the emotional week of mourning, Hakim, now 45, returned to her family home in California armed with a new mission: to finish the screenplay and start shooting that movie.

“Maybe I felt I could finally let it out since there was no one alive who would be upset with me anymore,” she says. “I also suddenly felt a sense of meaning. I gained a perspective on life: the fact that I was here [in Israel] on my own for a week, in this house, struggling with my memories of [my father] — and the fact that, at the end of the week, I obtained my parents’ photo albums, only to discover that my father and I had a common interest in photography.

“I realized I had to do something with my talent, that I couldn’t continue on the same path,” she says. “I’d turned into this woman who lives for her husband’s career, for her children and their quality of life. I felt that now it was my turn, that we had to return to Israel — and that I was going to make the film I’d always wanted to make.”

Hakim launched into the rewrite with renewed energy. The former journalist wasn’t afraid to open painful old wounds, scattering autobiographical elements throughout her script. She also refused to let the writing take second place to her family.

“Up till then I’d felt I was in a really good place,” recalls Hakim. It was pleasant and really comfortable in America, but a spirit of melancholy was slowly spreading over me. In movies or television shows, this is how women get addicted to alcohol and start drinking at noon. I realized I had to hurry up and make this movie — that I needed to do something of significance,” she says.

This sense of urgency also made her decide that she wouldn’t wait around to see if film foundations would back her movie; instead, she decided to finance it herself. The fact that her husband is network security guru and reported billionaire Shlomo Kramer (one of the cofounders of Check Point Software Technologies, Imperva and several other companies) helped her take this step.

Three years later, in the summer of 2015, her film was ready. “Yareach Bebayit 12” (“Moon in the 12th House”) was nominated for six Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars) last year, and screened in competition at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July. The film opened in Israeli cinemas earlier this month.

“Moon in the 12th House” is not autobiographical and is not based on Hakim’s personal story. However, when one learns of her life, it’s hard not to discern clear similarities between the female protagonists and the director-writer who created them: the mother who dies at a young age; the nightmarish years spent with a stepmother; and the overwhelming anger at the father who didn’t do enough to be there for her.

From "Moon in the 12th House."Credit: Ran Mendelson/United King Films

Childhood from hell

Hakim’s parents immigrated to Israel from Egypt. They settled in Holon and raised three children. The mother was deputy manager of a bank in Tel Aviv, while the father worked at another bank. In 1971, when their children were 16, 15 and 10, the mother gave birth to another daughter at a maternity ward in Tel Aviv. But the birth that initially seemed perfectly normal had turned into a tragedy within hours — the mother suffered internal bleeding and the medical team was unable to stanch the flow. Dorit Hakim was only a few hours old when she lost her mother.

“After this, my family was shaken up for years,” she admits. Her father met and married a much younger woman and the family moved to Kfar Sava. The four children had to contend not only with a separation from their extended family, which remained in Holon, but a complex life with a stepmother who was imposed on them.

“These were very complicated years,” says Hakim. “The stepmother had a very difficult time with me. She didn’t accept me and treated us all harshly.

“I spent most of my childhood having horrible fights with her, as did my older brothers. They left home one by one. One joined the army and another went to live with my grandmother. My sister married the first boyfriend she had.”

Dorit Hakim was left alone, facing her stepmother’s rage. And things didn’t improve when stepsiblings were born.

What about your father? Wasn’t he there?

“Not really. He went to work in the morning and returned late in the evening. He was a taciturn man. He didn’t provide me with any protection because he was busy attending to his own affairs and didn’t know what to do, anyway. I don’t think he actually realized he was supposed to do something.

“What’s clear is that he was completely helpless. He was the old-fashioned type of father, who believed that mothers should be the ones taking care of the children — and she didn’t do this very well. I think the whole situation was difficult for her, and sometimes she chose violent ways of dealing with me. My father always came home to find me crying and my brothers complaining. The house was absolute hell.”

Dorit Hakim's parents on their wedding day in Cairo, 1954. Her mother died in 1971, a few hours after giving birth to Dorit.Credit: Photo reproduction: Dan Keinan

What do you remember?

“I don’t remember very much — only from the age of 10, not before that. I remember how difficult it was for me. I mainly remember being afraid. A lot of fear. In the movie I tried to convey the sensation of fear. When you live with someone who’s unpredictable, you’re afraid the whole time, not knowing where the next outburst will come from. I remember that I never knew if I’d been well behaved or not on a particular day; or if I’d said something I shouldn’t have said. I didn’t know how to deal with her bouts of anger, with her dissatisfaction.

“It was a complex relationship because, despite everything, she was the main figure in my life because my father was never home. For the first years of my life my grandmother lived with us, so things were easier. I think one reason I only remember things from the age of 10 is that this was when my grandmother went to live in a nursing home. My father and stepmother had a baby girl at the same time, and then my relations with her really deteriorated. My grandmother left and I was left to do battle alone.”

In the absence of a father, the only person supporting Hakim during these years was her sister, Rachel, who is 15 years her senior. She presented a different model of motherhood, a softer and more balanced one. Even after she got married and left the family home, Rachel continued to care for her sister.

“She was like a mother to me,” says Hakim. “She’d come to school to meet my teachers and buy me clothes. She talked to my father, asking him to do something about the situation. On several occasions she actually approached social services — but they always believed my stepmother, not us,” she adds.

Hakim describes a harsh situation in which she was regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse from her stepmother. It was only when she was 12 and attending middle school, meeting children from less affluent parts of Kfar Sava, that new options presented themselves.

“There were some pretty wild kids there and I suddenly realized that I could resist, that I didn’t have to agree with everything I was told. So the next time she raised a hand to me, I stood up and fought back. This only exacerbated her response, so the second I could, I ran out of the house. I told my father I wasn’t coming back and went to live with my sister.”

Her world turned on its head. From an atmosphere of terror and strict adherence to rules about where she was and what she was doing (her stepmother usually refused to let her bring friends home or go out, she says), she moved into a household that granted her almost total freedom.

Her sister was then a young woman of 28, married and with a baby, and tried to compensate for the many hard years Dorit had lived through. “She let me do anything I wanted and I really went off the rails,” recalls Hakim. “I didn’t study and became quite wild. Then I had the idea of going to a boarding school. I’d seen films and read books about boarding schools, and thought it was cool.”

In 2008, Hakim wrote a piece in Haaretz (Hebrew edition), describing the day she arrived at the Hadassim Children & Youth Village (for disadvantaged kids): “My sister was still a bit angry with me, not understanding why I wanted to live in a boarding school when I could be living with her. Later, my father came as well. I’m sure my sister made him visit. We hardly see each other. Whenever I go to his house, he’s busy and I’m told to wait for him, sitting there with his wife and kids. This time he didn’t have much to say either, so he brought something, some chocolate he’d bought at the market. I smile. I’m happy, not at all sad.

“The school looks like the most natural place for children like me. Here I’m not that special. The girl sleeping above me has been sexually abused by her father. The one next to me has no one in the entire world. The one across from me has a mother in a psychiatric hospital.”

In contrast to the children she encountered at Hadassim, Hakim suddenly felt her situation was not so bad by comparison, she says in the interview. She lasted two years at Hadassim and then returned to live with her sister.

When she turned 18, she learned that the army was rejecting her, citing incompatibility based on social background. “This was due to my family background and the fact that I wasn’t very stable in those years,” she admits.

Queen of the city

Moving to Tel Aviv at the end of the 1980s changed Hakim’s life forever. Within a short time, the lost girl became one of the rising stars in the local newspaper world and a well-known figure on the nightlife scene.

She started working as an archivist at the Ha’ir newspaper, serving as assistant to novelist-director-columnist Uzi Weil. At some point, she plucked up the courage and approached the editor, Gal Uchovsky, asking if she could start writing for the paper. She soon became a leading voice at the paper.

Filmmaker Doron Tsabari, who was also a journalist, met Hakim at the time (and the two have remained friends). “The local papers were where the action was,” he recalls. “It was a time in which value was given to someone who knew how to write — good writing elicited ‘Wows!’ Dorit had the ability to find topical stories. She had a way of writing them and she always had her finger on the pulse.

“She actually invented herself. She said it didn’t matter what had happened in her childhood and that she was her own person, and this drove her forward.” She always embraced life and never let her past control her future, Tsabari observes.

She immersed herself in the Tel Aviv experience and wrote a regular column called “Hakim by night.”

“I always knew where to go and where the best parties were. I never paid for entry into any club, so I was invariably in the good books of my chief editor,” she smiles.

After then taking on the arts brief, she wrote for several papers, including Haaretz, and also found time to do some television work. In the midst of all this, in the mid-1990s, she enrolled at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, Jerusalem.

From "Something of Value," Dorit Hakim's 1998 short in which a father leaves his daughter at a gas station.Credit: Amri Ali

A short film she directed in her second year, “Something of Value,” highlighted the cinematic potential of this young journalist. The short — shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1998 — features a family arriving at a gas station. After filling up, the father realizes he has left his wallet at home, so he offers to walk home and return with the wallet. When the attendant asks him to leave a deposit, he leaves his 7-year-old daughter.

Three years after winning a prize at Venice for her short, Hakim wrote the screenplay for the TV drama “Caravan 841,” directed by Zion Rubin. And in 2004, she directed the 50-minute drama “Shivuy Mishkal” (“Balance”).

“I used to read her columns when she was a journalist and then she came for tests at the Sam Spiegel School,” recalls Renen Schorr, the school’s director. “I encountered a wounded person with a sad family and financial history. She was hard-working, ambitious, very good writing skills. Due to her situation, the school granted her a scholarship.” (Schorr also invited Hakim to join the school’s board of governors a few years ago.)

“The short film that won an award in Venice tells of an abandoned girl, and the final movie, just like her feature, tells a story of two sisters — so the material she uses is drawn from her life experiences,” says Schorr.

“What’s nice about Dorit,” he continues, “is that she never plays the role of a victim. She’s a fighter. She’s strong. She takes a position on every issue and has a big mouth sometimes. She takes a stand on cinema, as well as on social, political and ethical issues. She’s not spoiled and understands communication and images.”

Hakim describes her transition into the world of movies: “In my column, I’d write short stories about my adventures in the club and entertainment worlds of Tel Aviv. Then, some very respected people — some of whom are no longer with us, like Eli Mohar and Amnon Dankner — encouraged me to develop my writing skills beyond journalism. In those days I had an abusive boyfriend I was unsuccessfully trying to ditch — just like the character of Doron in ‘Moon in the 12th House.’ A few of my friends started studying film at the Sam Spiegel School. It was a new and innovative school so I said, ‘Let’s give it a go and try to get in. If I do, I’ll get rid of the boyfriend and begin over again.”

“I was accepted,” she adds. “I left Tel Aviv, ditched the boyfriend and left the world of journalism. My money ran out a year later and I returned to writing, this time for Maariv. But I continued with my studies and never returned to that abusive boyfriend.”

The guilt demon

“We’re speeding in a convertible at 6 A.M., returning from a party of pure bliss, the music still pounding in my head, the body burning with passion and the soul trembling. I’m just over 20, a journalist, and have been in love for an hour and 10 minutes,” wrote Hakim in that 2008 Haaretz story.

“Both his parents died when he was in high school and I feel we have that connection which is reserved for detached orphans. ‘It must be terrible, the sense of guilt you’re carrying around,’ he says suddenly, leaving Tel Aviv far behind. ‘That’s quite a burden.’ For a split second I don’t understand what guilt he’s talking about, but then I realize that a big demon had been released from the bottle. It’s the thing I’ve known was deep inside me for a long time, but couldn’t give it a name. That particular look my father gave me. The shadow always clouding my existence: she died because of me.”

All through her childhood and youth, Hakim gave little thought to the woman who had given birth to her, she says. And she definitely didn’t dwell on her own role in her mother’s death. “I was busy surviving the hell in my father’s house and my relations with my stepmother, trying to find my place in that complex family situation,” she says. “I never thought there used to be a woman there who had given birth to me. Until the age of 20, it never occurred to me that I was responsible for her death.

“Psychologists explain that repression is the best tool for dealing with trauma. I don’t know, but the fact is that until then, it never crossed my mind, and no one around me had expressed any such thing,” she says. “In retrospect, I do remember the emotional approach taken toward me that seemed strange. My environment — i.e., my extended family and neighbors — always treated me in a special way. On the one hand, I was regarded as if I were precious and important. But conversely, people would look at me and start crying, or avert their gaze. I felt cursed and blessed at the same time. This accompanied me for a long time.

“On many occasions I felt my presence in a room was too difficult for people. But at the same time there was still someone there who cared,” says Hakim.

This is the only time during our interview in which her voice breaks, trembles and her facade shatters. “I’m sorry I’m like this — I don’t usually have to remember these things” she explains, collecting herself.

From "Moon in the 12th House."Credit: Ran Mendelson/United King Films

“I’m a rational person and realize that accidents happen,” she says, regarding her mother’s death. But in the same breath she admits to walking around with a guilt complex, something that casts a shadow over nearly every aspect of her life.

“I never felt guilty for her death, but I feel guilty for almost everything else. If someone slipped on a banana peel right here, I’d feel guilty,” she adds, smiling.

The issue of her mother’s death returned with a vengeance when Hakim was struggling to get pregnant and undergoing fertility treatments. “People around me said it was psychologically connected to what I’d gone through, but I didn’t see any link,” she admits. “Even today I don’t see one. But everyone said so, including friends, psychologists — and even my partner thought so.”

Just in case they were all right, she started seeing a therapist. And along with trying to get pregnant, that was when she first started writing “Moon in the 12th House.”

“It was like a dybbuk for me, getting pregnant and writing the screenplay,” Hakim says. “I’d start doing something else but find myself returning to it. This was a chapter of my life I had to understand and get closure on. I needed to understand all the characters in that equation and let it out,” she explains. At some point, though, she put the screenplay in the desk drawer and concentrated on having a family and raising her children.

“I was born into a motherless existence,” Hakim says. “It’s like you’re missing an initial line of defense, so my nerves were much more exposed. When things were bad and difficult, there was no comfort. You have no one to become like, to emulate; it creates a vacuum in your identity. Conversely, it turned me into who I am. I am what I am because of that black hole — orphanhood strengthened me. I discovered that I was a strong person who could rely on herself, that I have powers others don’t have. That’s a lot.”

The woman under whose shadow she did grow up flooded her with concerns regarding her own maternal instincts. And the problems with getting pregnant didn’t calm matters, either. Ultimately though, motherhood was good for her, Hakim says.

“It came naturally. I have no complexes as a mother. I invest in my children and am attentive to them. Some say I’m too nice — that I’m not strict enough with them. I once punished my son and he laughed, saying I wouldn’t stick with the punishment because I’d had a difficult childhood and I’d always give in to them,” she laughs.

“They always take advantage of me because of that. I always worried that because I’d had no mother, there would be something unhealthy about my mothering. But that didn’t happen.”

Deceptively pastoral

As mentioned, it was the shivah of her father that caused Hakim — or allowed her — to finally make “Moon in the 12th House.” At the film’s core are two sisters: 21-year-old Lenny (Yaara Pelzig) lives in her childhood home on a moshav, nursing her elderly father. Her big sister, Mira (Yuval Scharf), meanwhile, has long left the family home and broken off ties with the family. She lives in the big city, running a thriving nightclub with her partner.

Mira’s world is shaken, though, when she discovers she is pregnant. She leaves her reinvented life behind and returns to the moshav. However, she finds it hard to forgive her father for not protecting her and her sister from a stepmother who made their lives a misery. And she frets that the distorted model of motherhood she was exposed to will prevent her from becoming a good mother.

David Mandil, who coproduced the movie, says Hakim approached him three years ago with an early draft of the screenplay, and they then worked on it together for more than a year.

“It’s not easy to make a film that for you is the most personal thing in the world,” he says. “It takes a lot of courage and inner truth. This is a woman who studied film and was a very successful student, then took time out to be a parent for 10 years, and is finally making a movie. That’s not easy, and I take my hat off to her for that.”

The beautiful cinematography by Amit Yasur, costumes by Li Alembik, art direction by Miguel Markin and direction by Hakim herself manage to create the visual effects that support the film’s tender storyline. The two protagonists spend most of the movie in the beautiful, green moshav, with its fragile and deceptively pastoral calmness. The sisters’ nightmarish childhood took place amid all this beauty, leaving behind wounds that have yet to heal, even after so many years.

The flashbacks to their childhood are designed with a chilling and threatening gloominess, which leaves each of them as the only source of warmth and human touch to the other. This all meshes perfectly with Ishai Adar’s film score.

“The movie brings elements of my life to the screen, but it’s not a precise reconstruction,” explains Hakim. “It’s not easy for me to talk about myself. Remembering myself as a child is not something I’m happy to do. I was a sad girl, frightened and feeling unwanted in my father’s home. I made a movie that talks about the protagonists’ inner world and identity. The two [sisters] operate out of guilt, they are enslaved by it. It dominates them and I think their reunion helps them escape it, and to heal. Mira severed ties with the family, but this break turns out to be painful when she discovers she’s pregnant. It was important for me to express the terror in which these girls live, since their house is booby-trapped with horrible memories.”

Naturally, it was easier for her to identify with the character of Mira, the queen of Tel Aviv’s nightlife who manages to conceal the childhood wounds and carve her own path. “She was the one who most attracted me while I was writing, since she was more active, doing things. I was mainly attracted to her ability to leave everything, to separate from her family and reinvent herself in a different place, as a different character,” says Hakim.

Which is exactly what you did.

“That’s true, and it also corresponds with the fact that I always find it difficult to belong anywhere. First I lived with my father and his wife, where I didn’t feel I belonged. Then I went to my sister’s. She was a young mother and did everything to make me feel at home, but it didn’t suit me. I went to a boarding school and felt I didn’t belong there, either. I don’t stay in touch, I have no friends from high school or the boarding school. It’s hard for me. So I understand Mira, who erased everything and started over. When she finds out she has an unplanned pregnancy, it opens up the wound of her separation from her family and home, igniting a desire to return. When she does, it’s like returning to the crime scene.”

The other sister, Lenny, reminds Hakim of her own sister, Rachel. “My sister had the fortune of growing up with my father, since until she was 15 she had a father and mother, and she always gave him credit for his good parenting in those years,” Hakim says. “There was something inside her that always wanted to remind him and the world that he could be a good father. So she always accepted him. Even though she fought many battles against him on my behalf, there was always a place inside her that loved and accepted him, which was much harder for me to do.”

During the writing process, did you find yourself delving into issues you hadn’t planned to touch?

“No, because I wrote the story very intuitively. What attracts me to writing is the momentary aspect — a scene, an event — not the intellectual side of things. All my analysis was done later, while working with the actors and cinematographer. Only then did I start seeing the symbolism and complexity. I didn’t see that while writing. It’s amazing how the subconscious emerges in the movie, but it wasn’t there while I was writing.”

The father can’t speak in the movie. Was this an attempt on your part to communicate with your own father, the one you couldn’t really talk to in real life?

“Apparently so. [SPOILERS] In the movie I actually manage to forgive him. In life I didn’t have an opportunity to tell him that. In the movie, both sisters end up forgiving him, but in real life I never said ‘I forgive you.’ I never had such a dialogue with him. I remember when I was 19, he told me he couldn’t have done anything else at the time. He tried saying something in his stammering way. But I never sat down with him and told him I felt he’d abandoned me.”

Did you want to?

“Sure, but I didn’t have anyone to say it to. I couldn’t approach him like that. He managed to see me as a successful journalist at Ha’ir and see me get the award at the Venice Film Festival. Nevertheless, he never made any parental gesture toward me — he never helped me financially or supported me. I could understand that as a young girl he couldn’t protect me because I believe that my mother’s death — as well as immigrating to this country — weakened him and he was helpless when faced with the situation that developed between his new wife and his children. But why didn’t he do anything when I was a young woman? He never extended a hand to help me, didn’t try to rectify the past in any way — and that’s what angered me. On the other hand, I wasn’t the ‘good daughter,’ either. I didn’t visit him when he became ill, I didn’t take care of him. I wasn’t that nice myself. But I think the fact that I chose to sit shivah for him, even though I thought I wouldn’t, demonstrates that I freed myself of the anger toward him.”

Escaping the Mizrahi tag

Throughout the interview Hakim mentions her parents’ Mizrahi origins (referring to Jews of Middle Eastern descent). She says that for years she spoke Arabic with her grandmother and recalls how her father’s marriage to a young Ashkenazi woman after her mother’s death, and the move to a more distant location, were perceived by the extended family as acts of defiance. Hakim’s Mizrahi roots were always there in her life, unrepressed, yet not only are the two actresses in this very personal movie both of Ashkenazi origin, but their looks prevent anyone from imagining otherwise.

“That’s true, it is very strange,” admits Hakim. “I didn’t imagine them as Ashkenazi and didn’t look for them as such. At first, I looked for only non-Ashkenazi actresses, but I simply didn’t find any. I have bitter memories from my studies at the Sam Spiegel School. When I made ‘Something of Value’ I cast an Ashkenazi girl, and a teacher there yelled at me that I would be denying my Mizrahi roots if I took such a poster Ashkenazi girl to play the part. He was right. He did it in a very ugly manner, but he was right.

Yuval Scharf as Mira in "Moon in the 12th House."Credit: Ran Mendelson/United King Films

“I imagined Mira as someone dark, curly and with an Israeli look. However, I couldn’t find such an actress. I swear!” she smiles. “I have a soft spot for redheads. Yuval [Scharf] was the only one who fit what I was looking for in terms of the lie that the character carries with her the whole time, showing it on her face. She stunned me at the first audition. She has a rare cinematic intensity that very few actors have.

“She gave her all for the role, and there were moments on set when I forgot it was her — for me she was only Mira. Yaara [Pelzig] was the best person for the role of Lenny. They were similar and this worked really well. Yaara is a great actress, intelligent and very precise. I wanted her for the film as soon as I saw her in ‘Policeman.’ We had to find a way of channeling her strength into the character of Lenny, and I think that, with her quiet restraint, she succeeded in doing that. Contrary to appearances, Lenny is not fragile.”

Hakim’s attitude to her Mizrahi roots remains complicated. “Not long ago I was at [TV personality] Assi Azar’s wedding. All the guests were joyfully performing Mizrahi-style dances, and I was the only one stood at the side with my drink, looking on. Assi grabbed me by the hand and said, ‘Come on, Hakim, connect to your Mizrahi roots!’ I wasn’t sure if I could, since I never felt connected to them in the first place. But maybe it’s more accurate to say I ran away from them.

“My father’s house was in a new neighborhood in Kfar Sava, a very Ashkenazi environment. I believe, subliminally, that this was the message I received from my surroundings — that it’s better to be Ashkenazi. Whereas in all my friends’ homes they listened to Israeli Hebrew music, it was only in my house that they played Farid al-Atrache and Umm Kulthum, and read Arabic newspapers that my father’s friends would send him from Cairo after the peace treaty was signed. So yes, I was embarrassed by that. It passed later, but there was still nothing I could identify with in terms of the Mizrahi elements — I didn’t feel their pain.

“Now, though, when my youngest son hears Mizrahi music and tells me, ‘Mom, it’s too bad Dad is Ashkenazi; I’d have loved to be Mizrahi on both sides,’ that amazes and moves me. I’m glad he feels proud of his Mizrahi roots, and I want to believe that the fact I kept my name all these years, and that my name was often published in newspapers, contributed to that, even if only a little bit.”

Wealth and happiness

Hakim now lives with her family in Tel Aviv’s gentrified Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. She met Shlomo Kramer 18 years ago, at the end of her studies at the Sam Spiegel School. They met through a mutual friend, director Gur Bentwich, who was working at the time on his movie “Mashehu Totali” (“Total Love”). Kramer was divorced with two children. As their relationship developed, Hakim suddenly found herself becoming, of all things, a stepmother.

“As a stepmother I was too good,” she laughs. “It wasn’t very challenging, because he has charming children and it was very easy. I didn’t feel like a stepmother, but more like their friend.” Six years after she met Kramer, Hakim gave birth to twin boys, now 12. And a couple of years later she had their third son, now 10.

“Moon in the 12th House” is her first full-length feature, but Hakim says it’s actually the second screenplay she wrote. She wrote the first one, “Casino Ramon,” shortly after finishing her studies. The script tells the story of a woman living in Machtesh Ramon who’s married to an incarcerated criminal. She works at the visitor center and is considered the smart one in the family. When some venture capitalists decide to open a casino there, they hire some rich person’s son, who in turn hires this woman to show him how the town works. The local residents expect her to help them get tenders to build the casino, but she falls in love with the young man and is torn between her love for him and her town.

Lenny’s character in “Moon in the 12th House” falls in love with her neighbor, who’s the son of wealthy people, and in real life you fell in love with a rich man. Coincidence?

“I don’t know. Maybe not. I didn’t give it much thought. In “Moon in the 12th House” I thought that even if Ben — played by Gefen Barkai — is the son of rich people, he’s lonely since his career-oriented mother is away from home, and money doesn’t compensate for that. Maybe it’s an attempt to say that even when you have everything you want, all the worldly comforts, what people really want is a connection and love and meaningful conversations.”

Did your life change after you suddenly had the money to do whatever you wanted?

“Yes, but I believe that money only buys comfort and lack of concern for money — nothing beyond that. On the contrary, it only gets you into trouble all the time.”

Why trouble?

“Because it really flattens who you are. Once you’re exceptional because of something, people relate only to that. Your personality and identity are somehow flattened, you become ‘the one with money.’ Money becomes the essence of everything and it’s a constant struggle to change that ... as if everything is judged and measured in light of your affluence. It’s like what they think about supermodel Bar Refaeli. People think about how beautiful she is, not about her as a woman.

“My next movie will deal with that, with the years I spent in Silicon Valley. It tells of a relationship between a very successful high-tech entrepreneur and a woman who comes from another country. I think success has a dark side, and that’s what I want to look at in my writing. It makes the world change its attitude toward you and can paralyze you.

“The protagonist in this movie is someone who was very successful, and I’m not talking about my husband but someone much bigger — like the person who invented Google or Facebook. What do these people do with themselves after that? OK, you’ve conquered the world, what else do you want? It’s confusing because you want to live a normal life, like everyone else, but it’s difficult because with all that money no one cares what you’re going through.”

What have you got to complain about with all this money...

“Exactly. I hope a movie will come out of it.”

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