Reunion Doc Strikes Political Chord


When Danae Elon, daughter of famed Israeli journalist and author Amos Elon, was 6 months old, a Palestinian Muslim knocked on the door of her home in East Jerusalem and asked for a job.

He was hired on the spot and for the next 20 years, Musa Obeidallah was Danae’s nanny, caretaker, confidant and second father.

Eventually, the girl went into the army and then became a documentary filmmaker in New York. Musa went back to his village on the West Bank and the two lost track of each other.

Three years ago, as the intifada raged on, Danae began to look for Musa, and she has documented the search and reunion in “Another Road Home.”

The film is difficult to categorize. Many viewers in Israel, America and elsewhere have been touched by its intimate, often painful, exploration of relationships within and between the Israeli and Palestinian families.

The same or other viewers have felt uncomfortable or outraged by the implicit ideological message that in the Mideast conflict — the Israelis are the oppressors and the Palestinians are the victims.

Elon makes no secret that her sympathies lie with the “victims,” but she denies that she has made a propaganda movie.

“This is a very personal film,” she said. “I set out to make a people film, not a political film for leftists.”

Though Musa’s home in the village of Battir is only a short drive from Jerusalem, Elon found it easier to track him down and meet him in Paterson, N.J., where six of his sons (out of 11 children) have settled down and established families of their own.

Most of the film’s encounters take place in Paterson, now home to some 30,000 Palestinians, who have recreated much of the sounds, smells, shops and street life of their homeland.

Paterson gained some notoriety after Sept. 11, when the Palestinian community was accused of harboring terrorist Muhamad Atta before he led the attack on the World Trade Center.

In the film, after Danae wins the confidence of the six brothers and their families, the grand reunion is arranged. Musa arrives in Paterson from his West Bank village, while the Elon parents, Amos and Beth, fly in from Europe.

The affection between Danae and Musa is palpable and the film is at its warmest when the Arab, like a Jewish mother, worries aloud that the 34-year-old Israeli woman is still unmarried.

But the conflict back home cannot be ignored and Musa describes some of his problems matter-of-factly.

Since he was not allowed to fly from Ben-Gurion Airport, he had to sneak around two road blocks and into Jordan to fly to America. He worries that the security wall will cut him off from his fields and prevent him from visiting the hospital in nearby Bethlehem.

The most searing indictments and most profound pessimism comes from the writer Amos Elon, who has given up hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and has moved with his New York-born wife to a small Italian town.

“Until 1967, Zionism represented Jewish nationalism; after the ’67 war it became a messianic religion,” he said. “Now there has been too much blood, too much anger. It is a tribal war, and they are the worst.”

For Danae, who acknowledged the difficulties of growing up in the shadow of a famous father, the second reunion is that with her parents.

Amos Elon, who advised his daughter against making the documentary, “is a very private person … that he consented to go before the camera is the greatest love he could show his daughter,” Danae said.

The film has been aired on Israeli television and found its warmest response among Palestinians and right-wing Israelis.

The former understandably like the sympathetic portrayal of one of their own. The right-wingers, said the filmmaker, “saw the movie as an expose of the hypocrisy of Israeli left-wingers, who hold protest rallies for peace but send their sons and daughters to serve in elite army units.”

“Another Road Home” opens May 6 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Town Center in Encino. For additional information on the film, visit www.anotherroadhomethemovie.com.

Ask Wendy


Absent Father Wants to See
Daughters

Dear Wendy,

My father left my mother when my sister was 8 and I was 5. His visits became increasingly infrequent until, about 20 years ago, we stopped hearing from him altogether. Recently he got in touch with my sister, told her he was dying of cancer and asked her to come visit. Where my sister sees closure, I see the opening of something I sealed off years ago. But she is afraid to go alone and wants me to go with her. She needs the moral support, and I don’t want to let her down.

Knotted Up Over Family Ties

Dear Knotted,

Your sister, if she decides to go, is embarking on a journey, not a simple day-trip. She may view this reunion with your father as a necessary excursion, but it sounds like you view it as heading off on something of a safari. Unarmed. I agree that your sister should not make her trek alone. But there must be plenty of other travelers — with nothing at stake — who would be happy to go along for the ride. A word of caution: Resolving one’s feelings is very different from “sealing them off.” Make sure you know the difference before you decide against seeing your father. This may be your last chance.

Gram’s Caretaker Thinks Judaism Is
Evil

Dear Wendy,

My ailing grandmother lives in a Jewish nursing home in Florida. She has a sweet and devoted caretaker who attends to her needs six days a week. I am very thankful that we have found her. There is one small problem: The caretaker is a devout Christian. She has informed me, on more than one occasion, that she prays every day that Jesus will open our hearts. The last time we spoke, she informed me that Judaism is an evil religion. I worry that she will take advantage of my grandmother’s confused state to convert her to Christianity. My mother and my aunt — my grandmother’s daughters — are amused by my account. But I am angry and very bothered. Any advice?

Worried About Grandma

Dear Worried,

If your grandmother is anything like mine was, it is more likely she will convert her caretaker to Judaism before she welcomes Jesus into her heart — no matter how vulnerable or confused she may be. Your grandmother’s caretaker may be the wrong religion for your taste, but I’d rather have a devout individual who feels she is doing God’s work than a hired hand who cares only about making a living. Or worse, someone whose caring and kindness you question as soon as you leave the room. My grandmother had a driver in her later years when her eyesight had failed. He would drink and make anti-Semitic remarks; when he was sober there was no sign of his prejudice.

Caring for the elderly is not a job many people seek. If you are not prepared to care for your grandmother yourself, be grateful that she has a companion who is above reproach in every way that matters. If it makes you feel better, I suggest you specify that when reading aloud to your grandmother, she select portions found in the Torah and not the Christian Bible.

Mixed Relationship Has Woman
Confused

Dear Wendy,

My mother is Jewish, my father is not. Growing up, I never knew what I was. I recently went on a Birthright Israel trip and felt deeply connected for the first time to my Jewish heritage. Here is my problem: I have been dating a non-Jewish man for over a year. If I ended the relationship I would regret it for the rest of my life. But I am constantly weighing my relationship with him against my feelings for the land of Israel and my desire to return there. I could not ask someone to convert to satisfy my needs. But if we have children, they would grow up as I did — confused, with nieces and nephews of other religions.

Struggling With Interfaith Issues

Dear Struggling,

There need be no such thing as a confused child. There are only ambivalent or ineffective parents who fail to transmit a clear identity to their progeny.

Yours is not the typical tale of crossed lovers. You cannot fault yourself for having discovered late in life what being a Jew means to you, nor for having fallen in love with a non-Jew before you did. Your dilemma is black and white but the solution is not. This is a matter of the heart. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to impose a deadline by which time you must choose either your religion or your man. The decision will come to you, and when it does, it will be clear. Your boyfriend will also have something to say about how this turns out. Just keep walking and see where you end up.

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