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Not many families have lit Shabbat candles and made kiddush at an altitude of 3,000 meters midway up Mount Kilimanjaro, known as "the Roof of Africa." But the Drucker family, a modern-Orthodox family from Pisgat Ze'ev, did just that.
Their journey - from the meticulous planning through the physical and emotional challenges as they ascended Africa's highest mountain - is documented in the film Family on the Edge (Mishpaha ad Hakatzeh), directed by filmmaker Gilad (Gili) Goldschmidt. The film, which integrates drama and majestic vistas, won a prize at the Religion Today Film Festival held in Trento, Italy, in October.
The purpose of the festival, held annually since 1997, is to encourage interreligious dialogue and understanding through the medium of cinema and to create opportunities for filmmakers of different cultures and religions to meet and share ideas.
In 2003 Yoram Drucker, his wife Yael, and their children Or, Ziv, Shir and Chen succeeded in climbing Mount Kenya, Africa's second highest peak at 5,000 meters. Drucker feels that this type of experience is what builds the long-term foundation of both individual personality and strong family bonds.
"We all enjoyed ourselves on that trip. But we felt that documentation was lacking for such a challenging venture. When we thought of going to Kilimanjaro, we decided to document the journey," says Drucker.
Drucker approached Goldschmidt to produce the film. "Initially I didn't know if the movie would interest anyone but the family," says Goldschmidt. "But the film does interest wider circles. We have recently screened it before groups of parents viewing it with their children, and it made for an interesting experience. The film raises some interesting points about family dynamics."
Goldschmidt, 43, is a graduate of the Ma'aleh School of Film in Jerusalem. For the past 12 years, he has produced and directed documentaries for the Government Press Office, the Techelet television channel, Beit Avi Chai and elsewhere. His wife, Hedva, is a film distributor who manages Go2Films Distributing and Marketing.
Goldschmidt was also the cinematographer and editor of Family on the Edge, filmed in 2007. Like the Druckers, he underwent thorough preparation for the climb up to the 6,000-meter peak, which claims the lives of four trekkers a year. "I consulted professionals about the climb. In addition to preparing myself physically, there were many technicalities to work out as a filmmaker. There was no electricity. There were problems with the batteries, a lot of dust and low temperatures to contend with," says Goldschmidt.
While physical fitness contributes to climbing Kilimanjaro, it is not the only element necessary for preparing for the trek. One has to get used to the high altitude, otherwise altitude sickness develops with symptoms of nausea, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness and sometimes life-threatening symptoms such as edema. Acclimatizing to the high altitudes is essential. Temperatures are low and were down to -10ÂºC when the Druckers did the climb in July.
The Druckers hike often in Israel. In the film, Drucker explains to his youngest daughter Chen, eight, that Kilimanjaro is about twice the height of Mount Hermon, which they had climbed. The skeptical Chen then asks about altitude sickness and gets a frank answer from her father - that it can sometimes cause death. Drucker, a medic, gets tips from a physician about signs to watch for and when to stop the ascent.
The trek up the mountain took the family six days. Every day they walked 12 to 15 kilometers, at an incline of 1,000 meters a day. "We planned in advance that we would walk for three days, and the fourth day which fell on Shabbat, would be for acclimatizing at the height of 3,000 meters," says Drucker.
The family also had to contend with keeping kosher in the expanses of Africa. "In hotels in Africa, as compared to European hotels, we can bring our own utensils to cook in. They accommodated us. If there's no choice, we manage with eating fruits," says Drucker.
In the film, Yael discusses with the Indian chef of an African hotel about her family's dietary laws. She inspects the fish for kashrut signs and instructs the chef to cook all food in the family's utensils and not the hotel's. Yael notes that the Indians also watch what they eat for religious reasons.
Although they were the only family on the challenging trail, they encountered many other trekkers, including Israelis. "We met a group of Americans who encouraged us to continue, but most people didn't think we would make it," says Drucker.
The scenery with the African peak in the background as the family gets closer is compelling. The film is also gripping and dramatic. "It is the story of a dream of a difficult mission ahead with many obstacles on the way," says Goldschmidt. "At first the family faces everyday challenges, but their dynamics change as they undergo stressful and tense situations as they try to reach the peak."
Family on the Edge will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday, November 14 at 9:30 p.m.
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