I Am Israel

Batya Sela, who is featured in the film, with her family (photo credit: DAVID KIERN)
Batya Sela, who is featured in the film, with her family
(photo credit: DAVID KIERN)
If you get weepy watching Nefesh b’Nefesh videos, international documentarian David Kiern’s new film I Am Israel will also move you. Profiling six Israelis who represent different geographical regions and different themes of Israel’s rebirth, the film was created to allow Christian audiences worldwide to “meet the people who call this place home.”
I Am Israel (running time 35 minutes) serves as a reminder of the miracle of the Jewish people returning home after 2,000 years. With his trademark resounding voice, the film’s narrator, Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies, intones, “We are living in the time spoken about long ago… time that this nation would be reborn.”
I Am Israel features gorgeous scenes of Israel and dramatic, swelling music. David Kiern, the film’s director, is a Christian, currently living in Tennessee.
“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Israel and for the Jewish people, but before making the film, modern Israel was really not on my radar at all,” he told In Jerusalem.
Kiern was invited to visit Israel by Lance McAlindon, the film’s producer. About that trip, Kiern reflected, “It blew me away. It really changed my life. I think about Israel every day now. A lot of Christians are just like me. They have a soft spot for Israel, but they may not know the beauty of the country and they may not know any Jews.”
I Am Israel is set to change that.
The film released on May 23, in association with the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day. It was shown in hundreds of churches all around the world, including Japan, Liberia, Latvia, Slovakia, Algeria (a country that is 99% Muslim) and Port Vila, a city in a remote island in the South Pacific. The free screenings are available for churches, small groups and synagogues until June 25. Kiern hopes the film will ultimately be screened in at least a thousand locations worldwide.
“Every single church that’s going to be showing this has somebody in there who has a really positive view and love in their heart for Israel. It’s going to be a positive thing. We want to encourage that,” Kiern commented.
“Jerusalem is a special place. I’ve been blessed as a human being by going to Israel and having friends in Israel. Most Christians don’t know what’s going on with the politics. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have understood what they are talking about. We made the movie to show Israel from top to bottom.
“One of the themes is that the Jewish people are special and the Land of Israel is special. Hopefully, that kind of comes out in the story.”
The film opens with a sunrise on Elon Moreh in the Shomron, “where the Jewish story in Israel begins,” said Kiern, referring to the Biblical account of Abraham being promised that the land will belong to his descendants.
Viewers meet a range of Israelis, including Jonathan Rosenberg, a young American immigrant who made aliya at age 19, served in the IDF and is now a cattle farmer in the Golan. In the film, Rosenberg speaks about how antisemitism appears to be inspiring young people to explore Israel for themselves.
The film also profiles Batya Sela, a tour guide and young mother who lives in the hills of Itamar in the Shomron with her husband and two young sons. Sela describes how her peaceful rural life connects her to the Bible. She speaks about how she relishes driving for a few minutes, taking out a Bible and telling her sons the stories of what happened at that location.
Alex Levin, a world-class painter originally from Ukraine, is also profiled. Levin made aliya in 1990 with his family. As an artist, Levin reflects on the otherworldly beauty of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular.
“I want people to feel that Jerusalem is a place that’s holy for everyone,” he says in the film.
Jerusalem is further represented by tour guide Daniella Avraham.
“I think that Jerusalem is so welcoming and so inviting and it just wants everyone to come and see and connect and feel that they’re a part of it as well.” The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor grandfather, Avraham made aliya at age seven. She relates how growing up in Israel, “gave us something a lot deeper, a lot more meaningful, as part of our personalities.”
Russian-born Yaakov Berg, CEO at Psagot Winery, came to Israel at age three. His interview, which centers on restoring the Israeli winemaking industry, encapsulates the essential message of the film.
“For 2,000 years, the land was desert. It was impossible to grow anything on those lands. A lot of people tried, but they could not succeed,” Berg says.
“I don’t think it’s something that we can really understand. It’s not that we changed the land. It’s not that we brought in new soil or something like that. The land really came back to herself. It’s like a dead man that came back to life.”
The grapes that the Psagot Winery uses to make wine are harvested by Christian volunteers who come from around the world to help.
“The Bible talks about it many times, all over. That the entire world will come and will participate and will try to help. It’s unbelievable. When I see, I’m crying.
“The fact that we came back here, okay. But why, somebody that lives so far away, thousands of thousands of kilometers from here, would like to know what’s going on, would like to support, would like to be with us, that we will work together? I think that this is the biggest miracle that God gave us in the last 20 or 30 years.”
The film also features brief interviews with MK Rabbi Yehuda Glick, radio host from the Land of Israel Network Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel, author and iconic Jerusalem store owner Moshe Kempinski and author and former mayor of Shilo, David Rubin.
Jewish viewers can be assured that, while the film includes Christian sites in Israel and mentions Jesus walking though Jerusalem, there is no whisper of proselytizing.
While Jews may swell with pride after watching the film, they are not its main audience. Nevertheless, Kiern hopes that Jews who do see the film will “feel confident that there are a ton of Christians who support them.”
Primarily, Kiern wanted to show his fellow Christians the Israel he discovered, the one that caught him by surprise.
“Driving in the Galilee, we stopped in a field that was completely green. It looked like Tennessee in the springtime. I didn’t know that Israel was green. So much of the imagery we see of Israel is not green. In the media, it’s not pretty.”
Kiern told IJ how, on his first trip to Israel, he ate every meal with Jews.
“They all told aliya stories and it was over and over how God had brought them back into the land.” He was moved by the miracle of the land and the miracle of the people.
“We tried to show that on film in an emotional way.
I Am Israel is not about maps or politics. We wanted to create an emotionally evocative film about the Land of Israel. We wanted to connect to people’s hearts.”
DVDs of the film are available at iamisraelfilm.com.