‘Who would have thought that an Askhenazi guy from The Bronx would make a movie
about the Yemenite experience in Israel?” says Robert (Bobby) M. Bleiweiss, the
producer and co-screenwriter of the recently released film, The Golden
This epic story of generations of Yemenite Jews, both in the
old country and in Israel, has brought Bleiweiss, a writer, teacher and
businessman, into the Israeli filmmaking community. And for Bleiweiss, a
soft-spoken man who wears a kippah, sits in his Mevasseret Zion office in a home
filled with photos of his children and grandchildren, the transition to
filmmaking has brought new challenges.
One of the first of these involved
his collaboration with Dvora Waysman, author of the novel The Pomegranate
Pendant, on which the book was based.
“Dvora was approached by Feldheim
Publishers to write a book about Yemenites,” says Bleiweiss. She came back with
this saga, after doing a great deal of research into Yemenite Jewish history and
But show business has its own set of conventions, and
Bleiweiss, who adapted the novel with a great deal of feeling for his source
material, had to make cuts in the multi-character storyline.
“It was hard
for Dvora,” admits Bleiweiss. “But I told her, ‘If people have read the book,
the worst thing that will happen is that they’ll leave the theater saying that
the book was better.’”
The film uses the framing device of having a singer of
Yemenite descent (Noa, aka Achinoam Nini) in a rehearsal at an amphitheater who
is approached by someone who knew her grandmother. The film then goes back in
time to tell the story of Mazal, a Jewish child-bride from Yemen, who moves to
Jerusalem from Yemen in the late 19th century. She becomes the mother of two and
is widowed at a young age, then supports her family through her skills as a
jeweler in gold and silver. This was not a traditional occupation for a woman at
this time, and she fights prejudice in order to make a living.
continues to tell the story of Mazal and her family, through the turbulent
decades that preceded the establishment of the state and on to the present day.
In the end, the film tells the story of four generations of Yemenite goldsmiths
at against the backdrop of Israeli history.
In addition to the cameo by
Noa, the film features a cast of distinguished Israeli actors, including Galit
Giat, Mati Seri, Michael Moshonov and Sharon Tal.
“We have a wonderful
cast, amazing actors,” says Bleiweiss.
Asked why they made the film in
English, Bleiweiss admits: “That was the single hardest decision we had to make.
We knew it would be an expensive production. There were 48 speaking parts
and 620 extras. Most of the costumes were made-to-order.”
consulting with various advisors, Bleiweiss was told, “‘If you make it in
Hebrew, there’s no way you’ll make your money back.’ So we made it in English. I
still wonder if that was the right decision. Sometimes, when I meet Israelis,
the first thing they say is, ‘Why did you make the movie in English?’ Israelis
take it as an affront.”
But Bleiweiss and director and co-screenwriter
Dan Turgeman are gambling that Israelis will overcome their prejudice against
English, and that the film will also speak to an international
“It’s an Israeli movie and an international movie,” says
He is currently at work on a film, a musical drama that was
inspired by his family life. Called Daniel
and set to star Mati Seri, it tells
the story of a young ultra-Orthodox yeshiva teacher whose father is killed in a
terrorist attack. The teacher bonds with his secular grandfather on the course
of a hike. But this time around, it will be a smaller production, and it will be
The film is a semi-autobiographical story for Bleiweiss, who
describes himself as a “Reservadox Jew – a combination of Orthodox, Conservative
and Reform,” and whose son is ultra-Orthodox.
Bleiweiss says he was,
“brought back to Judaism” relatively late in life, and “when you are brought
back to Judaism, you are brought back to Israel.”