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"And Behold There Came a Great Wind..."
The synagogue at Netzer Hazani before the destruction
by Judy Lash Balint
July 10, 2006

OK--so I'm a film nut. My friends all know not to expect to hear from me during the 9 days of Jerusalem's International Film Festival held every July in venues all over the city. For me, it's a unique opportunity to take in some elements of Israeli culture I would never otherwise be exposed to, and to see how Israel is exposed to the world through the increasingly sophisticated and popular feature films produced here and screened worldwide.

This year, as usual, I had a hard time culling down to 14 the number of films I could afford to see from the 300 offerings. (Even for Cinematheque annual subscribers like me, it's about $8 per film during the festival)

To date, by far the most powerful movie I've seen is "And Behold, There Comes a Great wind..." or "Vehinay, Ruach Gedolah Baah," in Hebrew.

It's a brand new film directed by Ziv Alexandroni, a self-confessed secular leftist, that documents the eight months leading up to last summer's traumatic destruction of 21 Jewish communities in Gush Katif.

The film follows the heart-rending plight of two families in the Gush--the Yefets in Netzer Hazani and the Peretz family from Atzmona.

We see the simple, honest lifestyle of Benny & Rachel Yefet, herb farmers in Netzer Hazani, whose faith and strength of character shines through in every scene. After losing their son, Itamar, to a terror attack in Kfar Darom in 2000, they somehow gather themselves to go on and continue to build their family and community.

In the film, Benny Yefet vows to rebuild his home and business within a year. There wasn't a dry eye in the theater as we watch the family cling to each other on the day of the eviction--we all know that today's reality, one year later is that almost none of the 1700 evicted families has been able to rebuild anything. Sure enough, as the lights go up, the Yefets announce that only one week ago did they move out of their tiny kibbutz guest house with no cooking facilities into their "caravilla" temporary housing at Ein Tzurim.

"Imagine, I was able to fry a shnitzel for the first time in 11 months," exclaims Rachel Yefet, who was pictured in the film cooking in her spacious kitchen at her former home in Netzer Hazani. Benny, in his late 50s, explains to the audience that he's finally found work in agriculture near Netanya, a 90 minute drive from his temporary home.

Rabbi Raffi Peretz, a Lieutenant Colonel in the air force reserves and head of the pre-military training academy in Atzmona, is the other person featured in the film. An extraordinary leader, the clean-shaven rabbi whose broad smile reveals prominent teeth, is the father of 12 and the spiritual father to his 200 students.

As he struggles to prepare his students and family for the inevitable uprooting, Rav Peretz exudes practical Torah-based wisdom and faith. His main principle is to respect the government and leaders despite the strong disagreement with the policy about to be carried out. In his final speech to the assembled students, many of whom are weeping at the impending dismantling of their beloved surroundings, Rav Peretz breaks down and sobs as he asks how the IDF could be put into the position of destroying a Torah institution built by their brothers.

In the post-screening discussion, director Alexandroni admits that he'd never been to Gush Katif before getting the idea for the movie. "I went on a long difficult journey during the course of filming," he says. "But nothing like the tragedy experienced by the Yefets and Rav Peretz, people I love."

Alexandroni calls the Yefets and Rav Peretz, "real people" who represent the communities of Gush Katif, unlike many of the extremists depicted by the media, Alexandroni declares.

The film has English subtitles--ask your local Israeli film festival to book this powerful testimony to the courage and faith of the people of Gush Katif, salt-of-the-earth Israelis. And if you'd like to meet a true Israeli leader, maybe you could even invite Rabbi Peretz to come.