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  • misafalesafahomepage2.jpg

    Directed by: Nurith Aviv Rating: TV-G
    Release Date: 2005 Running Time: 52 min
    Language: Hebrew (English Subtitles) Genre: Documentary
    More Info: More Films by Nurith Aviv Category: Israel


    Language isn’t just a way of communicating. For writers, singers and actors, it’s their lifeblood. Misafa Lesafa: From Language To Language investigates the role language plays in Israeli culture through the lens of foreign-born writers’ and artists’ struggles to negotiate between Hebrew and their native tongues.

    “It is not a language that flows out of you,” an immigrant writer says of Hebrew, which he first learned when he moved to Israel. “It’s more like shoveling gravel out of your mouth.”

    Hebrew might be Israel’s national language, but the nation has always had a large number of immigrants who arrive speaking their own native tongues. According to Misafa Lesafa, these Israeli immigrants face a conflict between the reflexive language of their childhood and the new language that surrounds them, and no one feels this conflict more sharply than the artists whose passions rely on words.

    Misafa Lesafa explores the inner workings of writers’ mind to reveal how each one handles their craft differently, and responds differently to the common linguistic conflict they face: How do you find your voice when two languages pull you in different directions? One Russian poet says he felt that being bilingual would threaten his writing because instead of using one language perfectly, he would rely on two watered-down, imperfect languages. He speaks violently when explaining how he had to force Russian out of his mind once he learned Hebrew. Although Russian words were eventually lost, he grew to realize that his poems borrowed their musical rhythm from Pushkin and Lermontov–the great Russian writers who had first impressed him.

    Many of the poets share this intensity when they speak about language. One woman describes her relationship to her first language in terms of a primal, infantile love. Like a little girl crawling into her mother’s lap, she says, she sinks into her native tongue when she is emotionally strained. And when she hears it spoken, it feels like drinking motherly milk.

    Misafa Lesafa goes beyond these individual writers’ struggles to reveal national attitudes toward language in Israeli society at large. At the dawn of modern Israel, one woman explains, there was a hierarchy between languages. As the daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, she admits, she was so embarrassed that her parents spoke Hungarian at home that she would never invite friends over to her house. The only thing worse than speaking Romanian or Hungarian, she notes, was speaking Yiddish–which was truly mortifying. And, strangely enough, despite WWII, German was still considered the language of high culture among European immigrants to Israel.

    Things have changed since the early days of the state, however. Misafa Lesafa argues that while the nation’s first immigrants were all eager to learn Hebrew (despite their terrible accents), Israel’s current immigrants are slower to assimilate and sometimes don’t feel pressured to learn Hebrew at all. “Our parents were different,” a Moroccan immigrant says. “They wanted to be Israeli right away.” The current wave of immigrants’ reluctance to learn Hebrew seems to have created tension between these new immigrants and the previous generation of new Israelis – once “immigrants” themselves — who felt they had to hide or give up their native culture.

    Language has also become a weapon and point of contention in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, the documentary contends. “Hebrew doesn’t belong to the Jews anymore, says an Arab writer, “it belongs to anyone who speaks it.” In an unpredicted grab for cultural equality, he writes in Hebrew. On the other hand, an Arab actress expresses her frustration with the fact that she and most other Israeli Arabs know Hebrew but so few Jewish Israelis know Arabic.

    Ultimately, Misafa Lesafa realizes that a language is more than just a collection of words. Each language has a personality that helps explain the culture of its people. “A man who loses his mother tongue is crippled for life,” one writer says. And it’s no exaggeration. What that man lost is his roots.





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