|From left, AMIT president Francine Stein, an Englewood resident, with Tal Avitan and his wife Liz.|
Tal Avitan is a successful filmmaker in Israel but when he spoke locally this weekend, it was of his father’s abusive behavior, his childhood in AMIT foster homes, and the help he got from the program.
At meetings at private homes in Teaneck and Englewood, he urged support for AMIT’s “Transforming the Negev Through Education: The AMIT Negev Initiative.” The campaign focuses on the 20 AMIT schools in Beersheba, Sderot, and Yerucham. The Israeli government plans to develop the Negev region and AMIT has been designated to supply the Negev and its growing communities with educational programs, teachers and principals, upgraded school buildings, playgrounds, and computers. (Americans for Israel and Torah runs a network of schools for “youth-at-risk.”)
Avitan, who lives in Sderot, spoke about the importance of the educational development of the Negev based on his own life experiences with AMIT.
Avitan lived at AMIT Beit Hayeled in Sderot from first to eighth grade, transferring to AMIT Kfar Blatt in Petach Tikvah for ninth through 12th grade. He and his four brothers had been sent to foster homes after their father was arrested because of his abusive behavior stemming from alcoholism.
“At Beit Hayeled and Kfar Blatt,” he said, “it was the first time that people really listened to me. I was given a direction in life and could experience how husbands and wives spoke with each other and raised their families.”
After high school he served in the army until he injured his hand in a non-military accident and switched to National Service. He chose to work in an after-school day-care program, helping children with their homework and playing games with them. After he finished his service he took a job in a factory but was unhappy with his life.
Avitan got in touch with his former principal from Kfat Blatt, Amiram Cohen, whom he described as “more than a father.” He ended up volunteering at Kfar Blatt, working in the community center with 300 children. He coordinated recreational and education activities and soon he began documenting the lives of a group of 12th-graders.
“Teachers and principals at Kfar Blatt believed in me and my passion for film and helped me receive a scholarship,” Avitan said. “This allowed me to enroll in a professional editing course, which taught me how to edit my own film.”
Avitan once dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player but found that his love of movies and film production was stronger.
“The development of this interest is all due to the guidance at Kfar Blatt,” he said. “Everyone at Kfar Blatt believed in me and encouraged me to start a business. I, along with another graduate of Kfar Blatt, obtained a loan in order to start a fledgling filming and clip-editing business.”
He moved back to his parents’ home in Sderot and enrolled in a program on film education at Sapir College there. As his studies moved forward, kassam rockets fell on Sderot and employment became sparse. Avitan began filming the situation in Sderot. Shortly after, he received a call from people at the Website YNet. They wanted him to help document the situation in Sderot.
While waiting for his film’s premiere, he learned that his father had committed suicide in prison. Avitan dedicated the film “The Wounded Town” to him because “he never got to see me succeed.” The film tells the story of two16-year-old boys who were hit by a kassam.
The BBC and Israel’s Channel 1 later approached Avitan about his Sderot footage. He is now expanding his business and working on a movie about his two younger brothers.
“I can honestly say that if it had not been for AMIT, my life likely would not have turned out this way,” Avitan said. “Amiram taught me everything and takes an interest like a father in all the young people at Kfar Blatt. AMIT guided and encouraged me in my interest in media/film direction and I am doing what I love and making a living out of it.”