Gila Almagor

This Israeli writer, stage actress, and film actress has a complicated identity.

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Autobiographical Novel and Film

During the 1980s, Almagor, now a mature woman, began to come to terms with her own past. In 1986, she published an autobiographical novel for young adults, which told the story of her special relationship with her Holocaust survivor mother. The book, which became a bestseller, was translated into sixteen languages and made part of the official school curriculum in Israel. Almagor adapted it into a one-woman theatrical performance and later into an award-winning film, The Summer of Aviya.

Almagor's portrayal of her mother, Henya, is remarkable for its depth and its shifts of mood and temperament. Forever tortured by her memories, Henya is a woman with a number on her arm whose erratic behavior is a burden for her ten-year-old daughter. The film was highly acclaimed and brought about a form of group therapy for an entire generation of Israelis who previously had not been able to discuss openly the ridicule that Holocaust survivors endured during the early years of the state.

As the film won more and more press attention, new information emerged. Israelis were shocked to learn that Almagor's mother was not actually a survivor of the Holocaust. Rather, she had come to Palestine before the war, leaving behind all of her relatives, who later died in the extermination camps of Europe. Her feelings of guilt at having left her family behind and self-deprecation for not having suffered like them brought about her mental breakdown.

Other Writings and Accomplishments

Compelled to explain this complicated phenomenon to her Israeli film--going public--a phenomenon which she had been unable to discuss in Summer of Aviya--Almagor wrote a second book and produced the film Under the Domim Tree in 1995. In this sequel, Aviya is now a teenager living in a school for child survivors and orphans. As she visits and cares for her mother, she begs her for a few words about her past, about her relatives, about her own long-dead father, whom she never knew. But her mother is so lost in the past that she cannot even heed the emotional needs of her daughter. As a performing artist, Gila Almagor has chosen to expose her own story, which was so difficult to articulate even as she passed into adulthood.

Since 1963 she has been married to Ya'akov Agmon, artistic and general manager of the Habimah National Theater. They have two children.

In 1981 she was one of the founders of the Israeli Union of the Performing Artists. In 1998 she was elected to the City Council of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where she holds the portfolio of Arts and Cultural Affairs. She is the president and one of the initiators of the International Film Festival of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, first held in Spring, 2002. Almagor is also the founder of the Gila Almagor Wishes Foundation, a non-profit organization which works for the welfare of children with terminal diseases. Her third book, Alex Lerner, Dafi and Me, was published by Am Oved in 2002.

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Amy Kronish

Amy Kronish is a freelance film consultant from Jerusalem who has lectured, written, taught, and produced extensively and internationally. For 15 years she worked at the Jerusalem Cinematheque/Israeli Film Archive, where she eventually served as Curate of Jewish and Israeli Film. She is previously the author of World Cinema: Israel.