Remembrance Day: Celebrating life

“Instead of the Israeli memory ethos, Miriam wanted to tell Yuval’s story, as a person. That’s what she asked us to do.”

By
May 2, 2019 12:16
Remembrance Day: Celebrating life

LIOR YONATAN, who was killed in the Yom Kippur War, was a natureloving boy.. (photo credit: GAL GALAI AND SHULI TAGAR)

For the past seven years, Beit Avi Chai has attempted to do the almost impossible. On Remembrance Day, a time when many – too many – people in this country mark the death of someone close to them, almost all primarily at a tragically young age, the Jerusalem cultural institution prefers to focus on life. There are numerous commemorative gatherings around, all suitably solemn, but few that primarily connect with the time the fallen spent here, with us, with their family, friends and others who knew them. Celebrated writer David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed at the tail-end of the Second Lebanon War, once talked about how when a person dies, an entire intimate culture dissipates with them. It is that personal microcosm which comes across the Beit Avi Chai annual project.

The “A Face. The Day. A Memorial.” slot of the Watching and Remembering program – overseen by project manager Yotvat Feiersen-Weil, production coordinator Liran Lifschitz and artistic adviser Osi Vald – takes a different route to honoring the fallen, either on IDF duty or as the result of an act of hostility. The first part of the Jerusalem cultural facility’s triptych title indicates that the event is not just about remembering the departed, but is also about recalling how they actually looked and how they were in life. This is partly achieved by screening short animated films based on events experienced by the people who are no longer with us and who will never grow old, and by some of those closest to them.

THIS LINE of thought suits octogenarian Miriam Harel, who lost her son Yuval in the First Lebanon War. Yuval was just 19 years old. The animated work dedicated to Yuval Harel is called Lost and Found.

There are four other movies in this year’s lineup, which will be screened on May 7 (9:30 p.m.), dedicated to Lior Yonatan, the son of the late poet Natan Yonatan, who was killed in the Yom Kippur; Mira Ben Ari, who died in the War of Independence; Amit Yeori, who fell during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza; and Moshe Yitzhak Tubul, who died in the Yom Kippur War. The free-entry, advance-registration program also includes musical spots, courtesy of Yuval Dayan and Ohad Hitman.

Feiersen-Weil believes that the artistic presentation of a chapter in the lives of the dear departed offers more than a nostalgia trip. “We all repress the transience. We are constantly documenting our lives. But, what do we really remember?” she posits. “The ‘A Face. The Day. A Memorial.’ project expresses the belief that as long as someone remembers us, we are alive.”
Miriam Harel would go along with that, and says she found herself drawn to the Beit Avi Chai initiative a while ago.

DANIELLA SRAR’S film ‘Connections’ looks at the dichotomy in the short life of Mira Ben-Ari, as a young mother and soldier. (Credit: Courtesy)

“I heard about the project, and I decided to go along to see it for myself,” she recalls. “I was very moved by what I saw, and I stored that feeling away. This year, I decided that I wanted to be involved in the project.”

Harel initiated a meeting with Lifschitz, and work on a film about Yuval began. Harel says that she wanted to keep her son’s memory alive by capturing some cherished vignettes of his short life, and their time together.

“When my husband and I were in our 20s, we went to Calgary, Canada, on shlichut. Yuval was almost two years old. We were there with Yuval for three years.”

It was, Harel said, a precious episode for them.

“We were a young, small family – just the three of us. Our daughter was born towards the end of the shlichut, but this was a time when it was just mom, dad and child. We had no extended family there.”

It was that period of invaluable intimacy that Harel wanted to capture and preserve.

“I thought that soon, there will be no one to relate those wonderful years, how Yuval was when he was a little boy. All that will vanish. I wanted that to be preserved, even just in three minutes [of animation]. I wanted something special, specifically, from that age [of Yuval].”

The upshot of that wish is Lost and Found. It is a delicately crafted work which, indeed, manages to convey the innocence, joy and love exuded and experienced by a three-and-a-half-year-old Yuval and his father, Yehezkel. The animation was created by Ofer Winter and Shimon Engel, under the aegis of Dov Abramson, creative director of Jerusalem-based Dov Abramson Art & Design studio.

‘IN Front of the Sea’ by Daphna Awadish celebrates the life of deep sea diving enthusiast Amit Yeori. (Credit: Courtesy)

IN THE 17 years since its founding, the studio has produced all manner of creations, but making an animated film about a young man killed in battle is not just another commission. It demands more than an artistic excellence and a high level of professionalism – there is an acute sensitivity factor to be taken into account.

First off, Abramson wanted to make sure he not only had all the facts he and his team needed to get the job done right, but also had a handle on the emotive content of the story, and those closest to Yuval.

“I sat down with Miriam ahead of time,” he said. “I am familiar with this [A Face. The Day. A Memorial.] project, because Beit Avi Chai has been a client of our studio for many years.”

Shared track record notwithstanding, Abramson says the assignment in hand demanded special attention to detail.
“Yuval’s story is always related in the context of how the bitter news was broken.”

On June 10, 1982, the fifth day of the First Lebanon War, two 19-year-old soldiers – both called Yuval Harel – were killed. Both came from Jerusalem. This led to a terrible case of mistaken identity, whereby Haya Harel thought her son had been killed, only to learn that it was another Yuval Harel, Miriam’s son. Her sense of relief was cruelly cut short when, tragically, a few hours later, IDF officials came to her house to break the terrible news that her son, too, had fallen.

“Miriam wanted us to tell Yuval’s story as the person he was – a child, a youth until he became a soldier,” Abramson continues.
Miriam also wanted to get away from the official approach to commemorating the military victims of war.

“Instead of the Israeli memory ethos, Miriam wanted to tell Yuval’s story, as a person. That’s what she asked us to do.”
“There were several reasons why I wanted to take part in the Beit Avi Chai project,” Harel explains. “I wanted something that would preserve and show Yuval at this special young age. I also felt that increasingly – since I was a child at school, and as an educator myself – we constantly engage with death. We forget that these soldiers were also, once, children. When Yuval was killed, he was 19 years and eight months old.”

‘LOST AND Found’ tells the tale of how Yuval Harel went missing in a Canadian shopping mall. (Credit: Courtesy)

Harel wanted people to know about some of things her son went through during his brief time on Earth.

“He grew up, went to elementary school and high school. That time, that passage which took up most of his life, was forgotten. The only thing that was [officially] addressed was the 10 months he served in the army. The entire personality of soldiers is [officially] focused on the most terrible event that could happen. What about their whole childhood? What about everything they thought about, talked about and dreamed about? And the happy times, and the times they annoyed people? What about everything they did and experienced with their brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents and friends? It is as if none of that happened, and we always, only, address their death."

Harel would like Remembrance Day to celebrate life, and not just focus on the sadness.

“I saw a wonderful source of light in this Beit Avi Chai project. They offer an opportunity to relate to the person themselves – in my case, this person called Yuval. Let’s celebrate his life, too.”

For more information about, and to register for, ‘A Face. The Day. A Memorial.’: www.bac.org.il and (02) 621-530


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