One of a kind

In making a documentary film about the Holocaust, Goel Pinto discovers the woman who is his mother.

faces 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
faces 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘We realized that we had to make a movie about the movie star,” says Goel Pinto, the director of the documentary One of Seven, which airs on Saturday, October 16. on Channel 8 at 10 p.m.
The star in question is his mother, Monique Pinto, mother of the seven children that give the film its title. Pinto is explaining his decision to change the film’s focus from his original plan, which was to make a film about the Holocaust and North African Jews. After interviewing his mother about the Holocaust, he knew he needed to make a film that was also about his family. And Pinto, 40, currently a literary critic at Globes and formerly a film writer for Haaretz who was recently a finalist on the Israeli version of Big Brother, has quite a story to tell. His father’s family had been in Israel for over 13 generations (in Safed), but then his grandfather moved to Algeria. His parents left Algiers for Israel in the early 1960s.
“They thought they were coming home, but they were considered secondclass citizens,” says Pinto, because they hadn’t been through the Holocaust and simply because of their non-Ashkenazi origins.
A traditional family, with a calm approach to observance (“My mother is the most religious person I know,” he notes, although she does not cover her hair or worry about the length of her sleeves), they were shaken up when his father went more in a haredi direction.
Pinto was sent to a prestigious Ashkenazi yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where he was bullied every day because of his Sephardi origins. After the 14-year-old Pinto was molested by his 18-year-old hevruta partner, it was Pinto who was expelled.
He later came to terms with the fact that he is gay, although he did marry in his early twenties, a marriage that lasted only a few months. But some footage of the traditional ceremony is included in the film, and no bridegroom ever looked happier than Pinto as he broke the glass.
BUT ALTHOUGH this is Pinto’s story, it’s his mother who dominates the film.
She is, by turns, charming, brilliant, outspoken and exasperating. While making the film, Pinto says, “I discovered my mother as a human being. The moment I hit the record button on the camera, she stopped being a mother and became a human being. . . She’s a 72-year-old woman beaten down by reality and society.
Her life is difficult, and no one ever asked her her opinion about anything – ” until Pinto put her on camera.
“The change was amazing.”
Although she may look like a typical Jewish mother (and grandmother), she is anything but. Viewers may be shocked as she describes how she has often wished that she had lost relatives in the Holocaust because she felt so excluded in Israel.
“But you did lose your aunt,” Pinto points out. An aunt was killed in a concentration camp, and Pinto, his mother, and one of his sisters go to Yad Vashem seeking information about her.
Finding none, they fill out a form and have her entered into the database. They also speak to a historian of the slaughter of North African Jews, who describes how she once heard a neighbor from Djerba (in Tunisia) talking about her war experience and how the woman was mocked by an Ashkenazi neighbor who had lost her entire family.
“I lost my aunt,” concedes Monique, “but they lost all their brothers and sisters and their parents and Fruma . . .”
While neither Pinto is saying that the Ashkenazi community shouldn’t mourn and commemorate the Holocaust, he simply pleads for a recognition that the Holocaust did not affect only European and Ashkenazi Jews. “The slaughter of the European Jews is not my story . . .to me it’s like the slaughter of the Cherokee, or Bosnians being slaughtered in Serbia, it’s not my history . . . We [Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews] are the majority here, but we feel like the minority.”
The comments of both Goel and Monique are likely to cause controversy, but Pinto seems uniquely suited to this challenge.
“I’m just saying, you have to deepen the narrative, to enlarge it,” says Pinto who, at Yad Vashem, discovers that hundreds of Algerian Jews living in Paris were killed by the Nazis. “One narrative doesn’t clash with the other.”
The movie is dedicated to the one person who definitely won’t see it – Pinto’s elderly and ailing father.
Although his father doesn’t know to this day that Pinto is gay, the two have been estranged for years. When Pinto visits his father in the film, the older man is not overjoyed. “He thought I would be the first rabbi of the family, the first dayan. When it became clear that I wouldn’t, he gave up on me, and it was easy for me in my thirties to give up on him.”
But while in some ways he has lost his father, Pinto has discovered his mother.
“This [the film] is her last present for me,” he says.