“I was born in the kibbutz of Kfar Aza” – A tribute to filmmaker Yahav Winner

Filmmaker Ady Walter will be at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival in November to present Shttl. At the same screening will be The Boy, set in the Kfar Aza kibbutz where its director, Yahav Winner, spent his life. He was murdered there on 7 October. Reading the text that Yahav Winner wrote to present his film – and which Ady Walter will introduce – you will understand that Hamas has also massacred people who were concerned about the misery in Gaza and who wanted the peace process to be revived.


A street in Kibbutz Kfar Aza – before October 7. Wikipedia Commons


You see, Yahav, we’re going to do it as if we were in a film… It’s our job, yours and mine, to tell stories and give them shape. So we’re going to pretend that we met in Hong Kong. As is often the case at festivals, after the screening of our films, we would have met in a nightclub of our choice, sipping a gin and tonic or a Moscow mule. Our thick, full glasses, the little mirrors on the bar sparkling with life in the night, would have reflected back to us the thousand and one lights of the city of Hong Kong, where we had been invited together. We would have talked about your film The Boy, which has already traveled to many film festivals. I know that part of it is autobiographical. I would have told you that your film is hard, frightening, powerful, terrifying, prophetic and absolutely right about the piece of land where you grew up, just opposite Gaza City. We would have been talking about my film, Shttl, which tells the story of the last moments of life in a village in Galicia before its brutal destruction by the Nazi invasion. I don’t know what you would have thought of this film, which ends with my young characters dancing wildly in the hollow of the forest from which the catastrophe will come. I would have told you that my film was made in Ukraine in the weeks before the invasion of Russia, and that it is about to be released at a time when Israel, your country, and Palestine, your neighbour that you care so much about, are in flames. We would have talked and debated, we would certainly have been moved, and perhaps afterwards we would have gone dancing with others. But this isn’t a film. Your film will be screened just before mine, on the same night, at that lovely festival in Hong Kong, on the 11th of November. You won’t be there, and we’ll never drink that gin and tonic or that Moscow mule, no light will ever flicker on our thick glasses, and we’ll never go dancing. I’ll never meet you, and I’ll never hug you on our third drink, my fellow director. Death has come. You were murdered, in your kibbutz of Kfar Aza, where your film The Boy is set, destroyed in a way that undoubtedly resembles the destruction of the shtetl at the centre of my film.

On 11 November, together with Elie, the festival director, we will express our injustice, our horror, our amazement and our anger that the world will never again be able to marvel and question itself through your eyes.

And I’ll read the text you wrote to evoke your film:

“I was born in Kibbutz Kfar Gaza in 1986. The eldest son of two urban parents who chose to come to Kibbutz to fulfill the dream of a house with a garden. My father, a handsome, strong and tough man, decided to give me the name Yahav – security, hope. From the moment I was born, I felt the yoke of God on my shoulders, because in my head there were dreams, reflections and high sensitivities that made me cry from almost every situation. I grew up in the kibbutz as an alpha male blessed with blue eyes and an athletic body, one who was prophesied to be an elite officer or even, if he really succeeded, a pilot. But I, for as long as I can remember, have felt split. A boy who fails to grow up. Trying to be serious and concentrate on the “important” things in life like cars, business and money, but I couldn’t. Instead I grabbed a guitar and sang. Or I told stories.

Life in the kibbutz as a child I remember as heaven on earth. Green lawns, a pool, paths you can walk on barefoot. I only remember the nights as scary. I sleep in a bunk bed with my little brother under me, unable to fall asleep because of the sounds of the muezzin coming from Gaza. My father was angry with me for not falling asleep. In 2006, Paradise started to become less magical. Israel-Gaza relations began to heat up and souvenirs from Gaza in the shape of exploding pipes began to fall on the kibbutz.

One day an exploding pipe fell on my neighbor Jimmy, my best friend’s father, and I was the first to see him. This event carved a hole in my heart and from that moment I embarked on a path from which the return was long. Shortly after the incident, I left the army on my own accord. My father, my beacon, took it very hard. His child went crazy, and the whole kibbutz knew. Chronic knee pain began to develop for him. But instead of being angry with me, he internalized it and did an act of his that I will cherish to this day – he took me to work with him in the field, so that I would be close to him.

We would drive in silence, father and son on the tractor, yellow wheat fields to our left, Gaza to our right. We didn’t talk much, but in those days it was a lifeline for me. He was my hero. I remember that somewhere I developed an awareness of wars, as absurd as they are but inevitable. The tanks and jeeps that used to travel in our fields, trampling the farmers’ work without recognition because everything is kosher when it comes to a military operation, would travel on the way to small and cunning Gaza, “to show them what it is” and who knows what kind of life they will harvest there.

There were days when I couldn’t digest the thought that whole families were being wiped out three kilometers from me and we have another cooking show on TV. In my film I try to capture a tragic and human triangle of the therapist, the patient and the absurd. My father – the therapist, I – the patient and the impossible and endless situation of the envelope and the Gaza Strip – the absurdity.”

Ady Walter / Yahav Winner

Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, November 11-19 2023

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