|Directed by:||Sivan Arbel||Rating:||TV-G|
|Release Date:||2005||Running Time:||53 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Film Website||Category:||Israel|
Little girls revel in the sunshine at an Israeli orphanage, tickling each other, studying, laughing, and watching with glee as their dresses poof up when they spin around. But when it’s time to go to bed, many of them weep under their covers and beg to go home. The real-life story of Israel’s Madelines, Day and Night explores life at the Weingarten dormitory, where the pain of separation from one’s parents can have longstanding effects, despite nothing but kindness from the administration.
“Being abandoned by my mother, it’s like missing a hand,” a middle aged woman, revisiting Weingarten after many years, weeps as she explains.
An understated documentary, Day and Night is an eye-opening look into life at Weingarten. Interviews with both the little girls presently dorming there and grown women who left more than twenty-five years ago show what effects a youth without parents has on children, and explains what the children are going through. They are all healthy, well-adjusted, and seemingly happy. But when a conversation turns to the subject of parents, love, or homesickness, most of them can’t speak without crying.
The founder of Weingarten was walking through Jerusalem in 1902 when he heard a little girl crying on a street corner. Learning that she had been abandoned, he took her home and cared for her. Word began to spread that this man, Mr. Fishel, was taking in orphan girls, so he established the Weingarten Dormitory, which has been passed down through his sons ever since. Today, a portion of the girls living there are orphans, while others have been placed in the dormitory for a variety of social reasons.
The principles on which Mr. Fishel founded his dormitory were revolutionary at the time. He believed children should be treated gently and with respect: if they clearly understood what was expected of them, he theorized, they would most likely behave. “Who thought of respecting a child fifty years ago?” one woman exclaims.
Mr. Fishel also understood the importance of individual attention. “Every child wants to be an only child and in an institution it’s more pronounced, so a lonely child stands out,” he’d explain. One girl remembers that Mr. Fishel had the cook prepare her a special chicken dish because she didn’t like fish, an unexpected level of specialized care in an institution serving dozens of children. But these simple acts of kindness left lasting impressions on little girls who felt invisible to the world.
Although the documentary maintains a respectful air of distance, little clips of dialogue belie the girls’ seeming naivete, to suggest that they’re wrestling with weighty issues. A pretty little girl seems to be having a normal conversation on the telephone, shuffling around while she speaks, but she becomes slightly self-conscious when she notices the camera and smiles coyly before wrapping up her conversation. “What can we do, the doctors know best,” she says into the phone, sounding more like an adult than a child. “Mamma, don’t cry,” she says repeatedly before finally hanging up the phone.
Because they are too young to know how to hide their thoughts and feelings, everything the little girls tell the camera is honest. One girl is asked to play a word association game that starts with “house,” to which she responds, “window,” which seems appropriate enough. But when she’s given the word “love,” she immediately says “phooey.” As she explains her response, it becomes clear that this skinny little girl is carrying a mass of self-loathing that hides behind her shy nature and quiet eyes.
The documentary demonstrates how formative the early childhood years are to a person’s development as an adult. Despite all the years that have passed and all the experiences she’s had since, a middle-aged woman still cries when she walks down the halls at Weingarten and remembers the sinking loneliness she lived with while she was there. The issues she faced then have stayed with her ever since.
DAY AND NIGHT discovers that what little girls really want isn’t just to have plenty of food, friends to play with, and a playground to run around on. All that can feel quite empty if there’s not a mother’s gentle hand to stroke your forehead before you fall asleep.