‘Our family in Israel is grateful for this slice of living history,’ Oz tells audience


(Left to right) International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Executive Vice President, Jeff Kaye; Limmud FSU Founder and Executive Committee Chairman, Chaim Chesler; Nili Oz; Amos Oz; Limmud FSU International Steering Committee Chairman, Matthew Bronfman; Limmud FSU Executive Director, Roman Kogan.

TEL AVIV, Dec. 10 – Acclaimed best-selling author Amoz Oz was visibly moved while attending a special screening of a new documentary chronicling the recent visit of his daughter to the Ukraine to retrace their family roots, in an event organized by Limmud FSU in Tel Aviv today.

Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) activists, including Chairman of its International Steering Committee Matthew Bronfman and journalists, gathered to honor the writer Oz, whose daughter, Prof. Fania Oz-Salzberger, a professor at Haifa University, recently returned from a Limmud FSU roots exploration to the once-Polish, now- Ukrainian town of Rivne (Rovno) where her grandmother, Fania (Amos’ mother), after whom she was named, two great-aunts, Haya and Sonia, and the Mussman family grew up.

The screening launched Limmud Kinneret, a three-day Limmud FSU celebration of Jewish culture, arts, tradition and identity that begins tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 11, at Kibbutz Ginosar on the Sea of Galilee. Some 800 Russian speakers, mostly young adults aged between 20 and 40, will attend and Oz will be interviewed at length during the weekend events. Limmud Kinneret will be partly devoted to Rachel Bluwstein (Rachel Hameshoreret – “Rachel the Poetess” – as she is known in Hebrew) who lived and wrote in Kvutzat Kinneret and is buried in the celebrated local cemetery on the lake’s shores.

Oz, with Limmud FSU activists, journalists and guests, watched this morning’s documentary film by Israeli photojournalist Eli Mandelbaum, who had followed Fania to the places of her grandmother’s childhood, including the house at 31 Dubinska Street, where she and her three sisters were born, the Tarbut school, where they were educated, and to the nearby Sosenki Forest, where some 22,000 Jews from the town, including many members of the Mussman family, were slaughtered over two days in 1941.

Oz, visibly moved after viewing the screening together with his wife Nili and other members of the Oz family, said: “You have warmed my heart and that of my family. Much of our family perished in the Sosenki forest and our small remaining family in Israel is grateful to Limmud FSU for sponsoring this film, which is a slice of living history, as well as their initiative in erecting a plaque on the family home in Rovno. One hundred and fifty pages of my book, A Tale of Life and Darkness, are devoted to the town of Rovno. The real writers of those pages were the three sisters – my mother, Fania, and my aunts, Sonia and Hayah. I was simply the pipeline.”

Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU and chair of its executive committee, told the audience that the Israeli-American director and actress Natalie Portman is in the final stages of completing a movie version of A Tale of Life and Darkness, in which the actress will portray the original Fania. “In Rovno I spoke to the mayor of the town and suggested that a première of the film be shown in his town,” said Chesler. “He was enthusiastic and supportive and now the next Limmud FSU challenge is to meet and convince Natalie Portman to go along with our idea.”

Jeff Kaye, executive vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who joined the screening, said he was “very proud to be asked” by IFCJ Founder and President Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein “to attend the event today. It is very rare to bring together a combination of history, literature, and love of the Jewish People all in one room and to create an event that is so meaningful – and Limmud FSU was able to do that.”