Synopsis:

A Film by David Ofek, Elinor Kowarsky and Ron Rotem

”Learning Hebrew has been central to establishing one‘s personal identity and sense of collective belonging. Language transcends political, religious and ideological divisions; it is what unites and coalesces the different parts of society.” (The Jewish Agency pamphlet for Hebrew Ulpan teachers.)

Chin left her daughter in China and came to Israel to make a living. She cleaned Ehud‘s house, and they fell in love. Sasha never considered immigrating to Israel. But four years after his woman left Russia with their daughter, he understood that life without his child is worthless. He left a thriving business behind only to find himself in Tel Aviv‘s worst neighborhood. Marisol grew up as a Jewish Princess in Lime Peru, and came to Israel to learn something about life. An unexpected pregnancy alters her plans.

These and other characters meet in a Hebrew language Ulpan where their personal stories meld with the complexities of Israeli reality. The immense effort of learning a new language is revealed through their encounter with a strange culture and an unfamiliar environment. Israeli society is revealed through the foreigner‘s eyes. This gaze, at times funny, at times sad, paints our daily reality with irony. But beyond the obvious differences, the human common denominator of longing and love, triumphs time and again.

Technical:

123 minutes (also available: five 30-minutes episodes TV-series), Israel 2006, Hebrew/English/Chinese/German/Russian/Spanish

Director: David Ofek & Ron Rotem (A Film by David Ofek, Elinor Kowarsky and Ron Rotem)

Cinematographer: Ron Rotem

Screenwriter: David Ofek, Sari Ezouz

Editor: Sari Ezouz

Producers: Edna Kowarsky, Elinor Kowarsky – Eden Productions

  • Best Documentary Director, The Wolgin Competition, The Jerusalem International Film Festival, Israel 2006
  • Best Documentary Editor, The Wolgin Competition, The Jerusalem International Film Festival, Israel 2006
  • Official Selection, The International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands 2007
  • Official Selection, 30th Göteborg International Film Festival, Sweden 2007
  • Official Selection, 22nd Israel film festival, USA 2007
  • Official Selection, 7th Israeli film festival in Paris, France 2007
  • In Competition, The Bermuda International Film Festival, Bermuda 2007
  • In Competition, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Greece 2007
  • In Competition, The Chicago International Documentary Film Festival, USA 2007
  • Official Selection, The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Canada 2007
  • Official Selection, The Stockholm Jewish Film Festival, Sweden 2007
  • Official Selection, 4th International Film Festival ‘Jewish Motifs’ in Warsaw, Poland 2007
  • Official Selection, 56th Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia 2007
  • Official Selection, 15th Filmfest Hamburg, Germany 2007
  • Official Selection, The Boston Jewish Film Festival, USA 2007
  • Best Documentary Series Award , The Israeli Documentary Filmmakers´ Forum Competition, Israel, June 2007
  • In Competition, The Pärnu International Film Festival, Estonia, July 2007
  • Official Selection,the UK Jewish Film Festival, UK, November 2007
  • Jury Award,Slow Film Festival,Hungary, July 2007
  • Official Selection, Stamford Jewish Film Festival USA October 2007
  • Official Selection, Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival ,USA, March 2008
  • Official Selection, Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival 2007 ,USA November 2007
  • Official Selection, amsterdam jewish film festival , The Netherlands, November 2007
  • Opening Film, NY Premier at the New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center , Usa, January 2008
  • Official Selection, Hartford Jewish Film Festival, USA, March 2008
  • In Competition, The Palm Beach International Film Festival, USA, April 2008
  • Official Selection, Madison University-Wisconsin, USA, February 2008
  • Official Selection, The Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, Canada, March 2008
  • Official Selection, Washington Jewish Film Festival, USA, April 2008
  • Official Selection, Jewish Culture Festival in Cracow, Poland, June 2008
  • Official Selection JCC Manhattan, USA, March, 2008
  • Official Selection, Long Island JCC,USA, May 2008
  • Official Selection,Sarasota Film Festival, USA, April 2008
  • Official Selection, The 14th JFF Berlin & Potsdam, Germany, June 2008
  • Official Selection, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, USA, July 2008
  • Best Documentary Series Award, Israeli Film Academy awards, Israel, July 2008
  • Official Selection, Hong Kong Jewish FF, Hong Kong, November 2008
  • Nominee, Grand Off European Off Film Awards, Poland, November 2008
  • Channel 2 (Keshet Broadcasting), Israel
  • yes-Docu, Israel
  • The Makor Foundation for Israeli Films
  • Sundance Channel, USA
  • YLE, Finland
  • The Documentary Channel, Canada

Engrossing documentary “A Hebrew Lesson” brings a fresh take on how non-natives cope with life in a new culture.
-Jay Weissberg, Variety (February 22nd, 2007)

This movie oozes love and compassion. Every second of its 123 minutes is a celebration of pure humanity… the characters in the movie – the teacher, students, workers, and policemen – share a type of all-embracing human brotherhood. They are all entitled to compassion, and they all emanate compassion… It is not an artistic, sophisticated, prettified representation – but an analysis of humanity itself. Is there anything better to say about a documentary film?
-Jon Feder, y-net (December 26th, 2006)

David Ofek’s “A Hebrew Lesson,” a delightful if thought-provoking look at the problems of several immigrant students in an oulpan, or intensive Hebrew class, traditionally a means of adapting newcomers to the values of the Jewish state.
-Howard Feinstein, IndieWIRE (July 20, 2006)

Le sujet est riche et le résultat à la hauteur des attentes. Sous l’oeil de David Ofek, l’oulpan apparaît bel et bien comme ce qu’il est : un espace de rencontres improbables entre des individus venus des cinq continents, de confessions différentes et dont la motivation varie parfois du tout au tout, mais aussi un lieu de passage faisant office de miroir de la société israélienne, de ses contradictions, de ses forces et faiblesses. Voire de son absurdité. Non seulement le rire et l’émotion sont au rendez-vous, mais les messages essentiels passent, l’air de rien..
-Nathalie Avisar, The Jerusalem Post (18 juillet, 2006)

David Ofek, a graduate of the ”Sam Spiegel” Film School in Jerusalem, was awarded the Wolgin Prize in the past for his short films ”Home” and ”Hi-Tech Dreams”. Co-creator of the popular Israeli TV series ”Bat-Yam – New-York“ and “Melanoma my Love“, Ofek also directed the documentary film ”No. 17“, which won the Israeli Academy Award for Best Documentary, as well as many other international Awards.

As an Israeli documentary director, cinematographer, and film teacher, Ron Rotem has been actively involved in filmmaking for over 30 years. Almost all of his award-winning documentary work has involved the telling of personal stories, some history related, many dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust. He is currently based in Copenhagen working on a documentary series about the future of European identity.

I was drawn to this first moment of strangeness, when the immigrant arrives to his new home and reacts to it. The different characters in the film start out as well-known stereotypes – the Russian immigrant, the Chinese worker the hot-blooded Latina. In time, after following them for a while, and with a style that avoids dictation, the charchters start to come to life, and surprisingly emerge out of the initial stereotypes the viewing experience created. In the end, for me the characters’ point of view was a refreshing look at the Israeli society, and at myself. (David Ofek)