Day one of freedom for Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit, whose skinny frame is the talk of Israel, took a morning stroll with his mother outside the family home in a leafy village in northern Israel, accompanied by police who formed a protective guard around him.

Israel media reported that Shalit, dressed in a t-shirt, sunglasses and a baseball cap with an IDF insignia on it, took a short walk Wednesday morning.

“You have to start with something,” his father, Noam, told reporters. “Gilad feels well. He needs time for himself.”

Shalit was also seen at his home by military doctors on Wednesday. He will be seen by doctors in the coming days in order to get a complete picture of his condition.

Following tests Tuesday, Shalit was found to have shrapnel wounds from his initial capture and to be suffering from malnutrition.

IFF: One Israeli’s ‘War Within’

Shemi Zarhin, the director and writer of “Aviva, My Love,” seems unfazed by missing a shot at the Oscar.

The film, a huge box office and critical success, tied in the Israel academy balloting with “Sweet Mud,” a fairly downbeat coming-of-age story set in a kibbutz. In a tie-breaking vote, “Sweet Mud” won by a nose.

“I know it’s the dream of many directors to get noticed in America, but I make my films for my people,” he said during a phone call from his home in Tel Aviv.

“I usually tell stories about the people I know, people like myself, not about computer animation or exploding cars.”

His people are the “provincials” of Tiberias, where Zarhin was born and where his family, of mixed North African and European descent, has lived for 200 years. And his film is naturally set in Tiberias, where the struggling title character hopes to realize her dream of becoming a writer.

“Aviva” will be the Israel Film Festival’s opening attraction on March 7 at Mann’s Chinese Theater. The film [was a huge commercial success by Israeli standards and] garnered five Ophirs, the Israeli Oscars, for best director, screenplay, actress, supporting actress and editing. Its inclusion in the upcoming festival is a felicitous choice that confirms the growing quality and maturity of the country’s movie industry.

American audiences, in particular, will welcome a film that depicts Israelis as three-dimensional human beings, with strengths and weaknesses, rather than the array of no-goodnicks favored by many Israeli directors harshly critical of their own society.

Aviva (Asi Levi) is a 40-something woman who works as a hotel cook in the historic and economically depressed city of Tiberias, but who has the eye and soul of a writer.

Every spare minute — off and even on the job — Aviva scribbles down her observations, reactions and fantasies to both interpret and escape her problems at home.

There, everybody leans on Aviva, emotionally and financially. Her husband, Moni (Dror Keren), is out of a job and mopes around the house. Her pretty younger sister, Anita (Rotem Abuhab), is trying to break into television but is mainly obsessed with futile attempts to become pregnant.

Daughter Oshnat (Dana Ivgy) is bored, snappish and about to go into the army. Son Alon (Itay Turgeman) at 16 broods about erectile dysfunction and needs therapy.

When Aviva visits her nearby parents, she finds her father endlessly cutting and pasting food recipes and her bizarre mother in and out of halfway institutions.

Yet, amid all these responsibilities and distractions, Aviva keeps writing. Her hopes are buoyed by Oded (Sasson Gabai), a writing teacher and novelist, who wrote a best-seller 10 years ago and has been wrestling with writer’s block ever since.

Finally, Oded makes Aviva an unusual offer. Since no one will publish the work of an unknown, he proposes to buy Aviva’s stories for a generous sum, but publish them under his own name.

How Aviva and the various family members deal with this sellout is the psychological and dramatic crux of this intriguing film.

“Aviva may look strong from the outside, but she is the weakest because she doesn’t believe in herself and her talent, she doesn’t love herself,” Zarhin said.

When he was 22, Zarhin left Tiberias to study at the Tel Aviv University film school. “That was the biggest change I ever experienced,” he recalled. “They have a different kind of life in Tel Aviv.”

After starting out in television and as a film critic, he broke into feature films. His greatest previous success was “Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomo” in 2003, which won some 20 prizes in film festivals around the world.

“The main theme of my movies is the gap between the outside of a person and what goes on inside,” he added. “That’s not always straightforward — ambiguity is the hardest thing to represent.”

Zarhin attributes the popularity of “Aviva” in Israel to “reflecting the everyday concerns of people.”

Those concerns focus less on the headline crises of nuclear threats or suicide bombings, and more on “the war within,” as Zarhin put it.

“We live in a grotesque kind of capitalist country in which the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening; unemployment is high, especially in places like Tiberias, and schools are deteriorating.”

Zarhin freely acknowledges that most of Israel’s film directors and writers, including himself, are on the left side of the political spectrum.

To the country’s credit, the government film fund, which underwrites most movie production costs, imposes no political correctness tests.

Nor are right-wing politicians and voters outraged by the harshly critical views of Israeli society frequently expressed by filmmakers.

In the title role, Tel Aviv-born Asi Levi won the Israel Academy’s top honor for her complex and moving performance. Levi describes herself as basically a singer, who has just come out with an album of “listener-friendly” rock and roll.

She recalled growing up in a home where her father was an Egged bus driver by day who played sax and did Louis Armstrong imitations by night.

Levi broke into television in 1995, followed up with a one-woman stage show, and was nominated as Europe’s top actress for her role in the 2004 film, “Avanim” (“Stones”), playing a religiously raised woman who moves into the secular world.

The top-grossing movies in Israel are normally American imports, but last year, she pointed out proudly, the two films drawing the largest audiences were “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Aviva.”

“The difference was that ‘Pirates’ had a budget of about $150 million, and ours was $1.5 million,” Levi said.


A for Achievement

Supporters of the Friends of Sheba Medical Center filled the ballroom at the Four Seasons last week to honor three remarkable women — Rita and Sue Brucker and Dr. Elizabeth Morgan with their prestigious Women of Achievement Award.Morgan gained national attention in 1987 when she went to jail rather than allow her daughter to attend court-ordered visits with her ex-husband who, Morgan believed was abusing her daughter. As a result, Congress passed two acts to safeguard children.

Affectionately known as “Bubbe the Clown,” Rita Brucker has decorated the faces of countless children with cancer and was recognized as “Mother of the Year” and “Volunteer of the Year” by Bezalel Hadassah Chapter, among her other honors. Brucker praised the work Sheba Medical Center is doing to ensure the health of newborns, urging everyone to continue supporting their efforts.Daughter-in-law Sue, wife of Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker, credited her parents with living a life of charity and service, setting an example she has embraced and passed on to her children.

“If my children, Lauren and Richard, and their peers are indicative of the next generation, I know we have nothing to worry about,” she told the attendees. Among her other honors and achievements, Sue Brucker has been feted by Hadassah of Southern California and is currently president of Temple Emanuel.Event Chair Ruth Steinberger and co-chairs Aviva Harari and Lynn Ziman called on writer/humorist extraordinaire and “Save Me a Seat” author Rhea Kohan to hostess the event. Kohan entertained the group with a humorous take on daughters, sons and living life in the middle-aged lane.

A boutique featuring a wide variety of items drew buyers before and after the luncheon — all designed to raise money for newborn screening at Sheba Medical Center. Seen wandering about checking out the boutiques were Beverly Hills School Board President Myra Lurie and her mother, Bess; Allison Levyn and her mother-in-law, Toni; Denise Avchen; Helene Harris; Marilyn Weiss; Lonnie Delshad, wife of Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Susie Wallach, Stacia and Larry Kopeikin; Amy and Noah Furie, and Nancy Krasne.

Aviva Brightens Bel Air

A misty day couldn’t dampen the spirits of Aviva Family and Children’s Services supporters last week when they gathered at the home of uber-philanthropist Robin Broidy for an elegant and successful benefit luncheon.

Broidy tented the yard in her Bel Air home for the delicious event, which was catered by Wolfgang Puck and featured a tempting Fendi boutique that contributed 15 percent of its sales to the charity — as well as the fabulous Fendi goodie bags.

The luncheon planned and executed by Broidy and underwritten by Susan Casden, raised more than $75,000 to support the worthwhile projects of Aviva. President Andrew Diamond updated the group and invited guests to tour the facility. The guest list was brimming with many of Los Angeles’ most charitable and giving women including: Linda May, Barbara Miller, Pamela Dennis, Lilly Tartikoff, Lola Levey, Diane Glazer, Jami Gertz and Annette Plotkin.

Founded in 1915, Aviva Family and Children’s Services provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

On the Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue-Beverly Hills held its “I Want It” event last week to raise funds for the Tower Cancer Research Foundation. Attendees, including Judy Henning, Bonnie Webb and Lillian Raffels, sipped martinis and nibbled morsels while wandering through the store trying to decide what to purchase with their $50 gift cards. The Henri Mancini Trio provided live music as fabulous frocks and jewels by designers such as Tony Duquette kept everyone mesmerized. The night was a complete success for cancer research and a fun shopping experience for guests.

Liberty for All

The first Torah scroll written exclusively to honor and memorialize members of the U.S. military was inaugurated in a ceremony Sept. 10 at the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center.

Known as the first letters of the Liberty Torah, it was inscribed by a Jewish scribe, or sofer, at the ceremony timed to coincide with the eve of the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 and marked by prayers for our military and peace in the world.

The Liberty Torah was initiated by Oxnard residents Dr. David and Edi Boxstein and their family to honor their son, Jonathan, who is currently serving in Iraq in the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

“The Liberty Torah gives everyone, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, the opportunity to honor all our soldiers who have served our great country throughout our history, and to pray for an end to all hostilities,” said Chabad of Oxnard director Rabbi Dov Muchnik.

The Torah was sent to Israel to be completed, and then will be returned to the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center for use in its holiday and Shabbat services.The event also featured live music, refreshments and a hands-on Torah writing workshop for children.

For more information, visit, or call (805) 382-4770.

Happenings I

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels was honored with a Peace Award from the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Comess-Daniels thanked the Beth Shir Sholom community for enabling him to “pray with his legs” in ways that result in this kind of recognition and he gratefully shared the award with Beth Shir Sholom.

Happenings II

Screenwriter author Nora Ephron (“Heartburn, “Silkwood” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally”) spoke to an overflowing crowd last Thursday night at the Writer’s Guild Writer’s Bloc event. Hosting Ephron and serving as moderator was megaproducer mogul Linda Obst, who offered insights into her longtime friendship with Ephron. Ephron entertained the audience with stories about her years in Washington, her experiences as a journalist and the agony of aging as chronicled in her new book ” I Feel Bad About my Neck.”

For more information about upcoming events, call (310) 335-0917.

Reflecting on a Great Cause

The UCLA Marching Band escorts Jewish Home Lifetime Award recipient Sylvia and Sherman Grancell into the gala Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The beat of the UCLA Marching Band announced the opening of festivities last week when almost 600 people attended the Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 dinner at the Beverly Hilton to benefit the Jewish Home for the Aging. A live auction hosted by Monty Hall raised $31,000 of the more than $500,000 total by offering blimp rides, a Wells Fargo box at Dodger Stadium, private screening with catering and Fox football studio viewing.

The Circuit 06-30-2006

All About Aviva
It was a night of stargazing…and trying unsuccessfully to spot any flaws on the amazing “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher, when Aviva Family and Children’s Services presented its annual Triumph of the Spirit Awards Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The evening sparkled as honorees recognized with Aviva Spirit of Compassion awards included Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment; actress Raven; restaurateur and architectural designer Barbara Lazaroff, president of Imaginings Interior Design and partner and co-founder of the Wolfgang Puck group of businesses; and community leader and philanthropist Susan Casden. Hatcher served as honorary dinner chair, Jeff Garlin emceed and Macy Gray and Melissa Manchester performed.

Aviva is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, multiservice agency that provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

For more information, visit