The Arty Semite

Tel Aviv School No 'Stranger' to the Oscars

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share

The crowded hallways of the Bialik-Rogozin school in gritty South Tel Aviv are about as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as one can imagine.

Courtesy Simon & Goodman Picture Company

But on the evening of the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, the school’s principal, Keren Tal, will make the transition from those hallways to the red carpet, as she walks alongside filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman. Tal, along with the teachers and students of her school, are the stars of a 40-minute documentary “Strangers No More,” which is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category.

Bialik-Rogozin is not your typical Israeli school. On the campus, 800 children from more than 48 countries in grades K-12 are educated, many entering school with no understanding of Hebrew.

“Here, Christians, Jews and Muslims study together,” declares principal Keren Tal in the film. “In education, there are no strangers.”

For some of the students, it is the first opportunity to sit in a classroom they have ever had. The film examines the traumatic circumstances that brought these children to Israel — many fled from poverty, hunger and war — and the process of their integration into their new home. Several children at the school have been in the national spotlight recently, as political debate has raged in Israel over the morality of deporting the children of illegal workers.

“Strangers No More” focuses on three students and their year-long educational journey over the 2009-2010 school year. Mohammed is a 16-year-old refugee from Darfur who escaped alone through Egypt to Israel after witnessing the killing of his father and his grandmother, and he embraces his first opportunity to attend school. He is so eager to make up for lost time that he completes four years of academic work in a single year.

Johannes, age 12, spent most of his life in refugee camps after fleeing Eritrea, and also enters the classroom for the first time, while his father struggles to obtain a work visa to support them. Nine-year-old Esther and her father came to Israel from South Africa after her mother was killed, an experience which still traumatizes her.

“We just had to find a safe place,” Esther explains simply. The film shows how Bialik-Rogozin becomes that safe place for them, and how they connect and learn to trust their Israeli teachers despite the barriers of language and culture.

A trip to the Oscars is nothing new for producer-directors Simon and Goodman — it is the fourth nomination for a team that has made more than 20 documentaries together. But the New York-based filmmakers said the 15 months they spent following the teachers and students at Bialik-Rogozin was a unique filmmaking experience.

From the first moment they visited the school, Simon recalled, they were sold on the idea of capturing it on film. “As soon as you walk in the front door, you see the faces, the flags from all over the world, you hear the children singing, you see what a remarkable place it is. We immediately fell in love.”

As New Yorkers, who were only familiar with the war and strife on the news, life inside Bialik-Rogozin was a revelation.”Tolerance and peace is a way of life for these children and this school. It is completely ironic, in one of the most stressful regions of the world, that such an oasis exists.” At screenings, she said “people are surprised that such a secular and tolerant school could exist in a place like Israel.”

Goodman says that the children at the school are “over the moon” about the Oscar nomination — at a special screening at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, the three stars leapt onstage and took a bow at the end — and will be watching the ceremony with their fingers crossed. Goodman and Simon are excited that Tal will accompany them to the ceremony. “She is a dedicated and remarkable principal, who somehow manages to provide both an education and a protective environment for these kids. Many donations come into the school, and if the children need help — whether it is with food, clothing or emotional support, they receive it. She takes a very holistic approach. And she, like the rest of the teachers, arrive at the school early and stay late. They are utterly committed.”

Watch the trailer for ‘Strangers No More’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tel Aviv, Oscars, Kirk Simon, Keren Tal, Karen Goodman, Film, Eritrea, Darfur, Documentaries, Bialik-Rogozin, Allison Kaplan Sommer

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.