Long before Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, and viciously attacked areas near the border, it was clear that life was not simple for Israelis who lived in close proximity to Gaza. For years, communities in southern Israel endured endless rocket attacks. And, of course, in addition to the physical damages, the attacks significantly disrupted routines and generated fear.
“Sometimes, especially when you live on the border, when you live in an everyday frightening situation, you can only survive if you don’t think about all those alarms,” Etti Inbal, founder of Cinematec, which brings Israeli films to the northern New Jersey community, said. But this coping mechanism “makes it very difficult to listen to those who may be more worried.”
Some residents might feel strong and unafraid, and believe that ignoring the situation will make it go away, Dr. Inbal, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, continued. But often, people need the space to talk about, and to work through, their fear. “Some people need to say, ‘No, it’s not that simple, pay attention. It’s not that simple to witness all these alarms and bombs, even if you have the Iron Dome and the army, it’s not that simple to feel safe in this situation.’”
Dr. Inbal lives in Cliffside Park but she is originally from Israel. She founded Cinematec in 2016, in order to “create a space where Israelis and Jewish Americans, and all Americans, can come together and talk, and better understand Israel and also one another,” she said. “I have grandchildren in Israel and I have a young grandchild here.” Dr. Inbal’s daughter lives in Israel and has three sons, two of whom are now serving in the IDF; her son lives in Westchester County and has one son.
“I started to look to the future of my family and the future of Israel and the United States,” she said. She hoped her Israeli and American grandchildren would continue to feel connected to one another despite growing up in different environments. She was worried about a growing disconnect between Americans and Israelis and the bias against Israeli scientists and artists sometimes seen in academia. Her goal was to strengthen the connection between the two communities.
Cinematec events tend to attract a mix of Israelis and American Jews. An important goal is to build a community, Dr. Inbal said, and to bring Israelis and American Jews to a common understanding and an appreciation of life in Israel. Over the past few years, she has witnessed the Israeli government becoming less popular with some American Jewish communities. And she has found that people sometimes equate Israel’s governing coalition with the country and its citizens. “It’s like, if you don’t like the government, you don’t like anyone in Israel,” she said. She wants Americans to understand that many Israelis have ideas and opinions that are very similar to their own.
A number of the organization’s programs also have drawn people who did not have a connection to Israel, and were not Jewish, but were just interested in the topics presented. One event showcased “Mr. Gaga,” a documentary about Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. It included a dance session and “it was really a community event,” Dr. Inbal said. She sees these types of programs as both community builders and a means to break down stereotypes and combat bias.
Through Cinematec, Dr. Inbal has developed significant ties to the film industry in Israel. “Many people know me, and when something is interesting, they send me material,” she said. Very soon after the October 7 attack, she received Israeli director Yahav Winner’s 2023 film, “The Boy.” The film is about a father and son who live on a kibbutz near the Gaza border and have to contend with rocket attacks.
Mr. Winner lived in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz near the Gaza border, with his wife, Shaylee Atary, and their baby, Shaya. Hamas terrorists murdered him on October 7. When they broke into the family home, Mr. Winner tried to stall them so Ms. Atary could take the baby and run. “What he did was really an act of bravery,” Dr. Inbal said. “He helped his family survive. He could have tried to run — tried to save himself — but he stayed and delayed the terrorists to give his wife time to get away.”
Dr. Inbal thought “The Boy” was an excellent film, which gives viewers a glimpse of what it was like to live near the border before October 7. “You hear all these bombs and alarms, what does it mean?” Dr. Inbal said. “It’s a short film, but so strong.” She wanted to showcase the project, and she knew immediately that she wanted all the proceeds to go to Mr. Winner’s family, but she felt that the film alone was not long enough for a program. Contacts had sent her other short films that could have been screened along with it, but Dr. Inbal felt strongly that she wanted to see more of Mr. Winner’s work.
She saw two more short films by Mr. Winner — “Indian Grave” and “Deep Breaths”— and felt that the three films “are very connected, and connected to the current situation in Israel. They feel prophetic.” “Indian Grave” tells the story of a stressed man who seeks relief in an Indian burial ceremony; “Deep Breaths” is about a young widow who meets the ghost of her dead husband.
Cinematec will screen the three short films, with English subtitles, at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on January 28. (See box.) The screenings will be followed by an interview with Ms. Atary by film director and producer Shimon Azulay, and then a discussion with Mr. Azulay.
Mr. Winner grew up on Kibbutz Kfar Aza. As a young adult, he saw his friend’s father killed by a rocket fired from Gaza, and that affected him deeply, Dr. Inbal said. “He was post-traumatic.” She also described Mr. Winner as “pre-traumatic,” because it is apparent from his films that he “envisioned that trauma is coming.
“He was afraid,” she said. “The three films all relate to the trauma.”
The interview with Ms. Atary also will be an important part of the program, Dr. Inbal said, because Ms. Atary is in a unique position to shed light on the films. Ms. Atary is a filmmaker — she and Mr. Winner met in film school and worked together closely. She was the editor for the three films being showcased and starred in “Deep Breaths” alongside Mr. Winner. Ms. Atary is in Israel now, so the interview was prerecorded. In the conversation, she talks about the films and how the topics were selected. She also talks about some of her own work. And she describes some of what the family experienced in the horrific Hamas attack and her husband’s heroic actions that gave her time to escape with the couple’s month-old infant.
What: An evening in memory of film director Yahav Winner, who was murdered in the October 7 attack on Kfar Aza.
When: Sunday, January 28, 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly
Cost: $30. All proceeds will benefit the Winner family.
Register at: www.jccotp.org/event/cinematec