Film Chat: Follow Me

— by Hannah Lee

Anyone who’s been disappointed by the 1977 movie, Raid on Entebbe, will be captivated by the new documentary, Follow Me, which gives an account of the life and tragic early death of Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, the commander of the rescue mission and the elder brother of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

It’s a profile in courage and leadership, with the filmmakers having gotten unprecedented access to Yoni’s letters, both published and unpublished, family photos, and home movies. There are also interviews with former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, the soldiers under Yoni’s command in the elite Sayeret Maktal (commonly known as “The Unit”), and even his ex-wife Tirza “Tutti,” who had never before agreed to speak about her relationship with Yoni.

More after the jump.
Fierce patriots, the Netanyahus spent some years in the United States — in our fair city — while their father, Ben-Zion, pursued scholarship at Dropsie College.* The father was professor of Hebrew language and literature, and later, chairman of the department, (1957-1966), and professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature. As a 16-year-old, Yoni arrived to attend Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, PA (where he was a classmate of Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson). This is the reason Bibi Netanyahu speaks colloquial English with a Philly accent. In his letters, Yoni wrote about his discomfort with the expansiveness of homes in the United States and the carefree lives of his classmates, who cared only for cars and girls.

The Israel depicted in the documentary is the one we grew up with and our children are taught about in school — an ideal world with pioneers who fought for a dusty land and who wished only to be allowed to live in peace. The Netanyahu brothers came of age in a young nation that was subject to struggles for survival — in the epic wars of 1967 and 1973.

After his military service, Yoni returned to the U.S. to study at Harvard on scholarship, but he was troubled by the existential crises of his country and he returned to Eretz Yisrael as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Yoni was a leader who inspired his men by working alongside them. He never sent them to do anything he would not do himself.

Yoni Netanyahu is immortalized for leading the counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the IDF at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976. On June 27th, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The passengers were sorted by ethnicity and country of origin– Jews and Israelis from the other passengers. That afternoon, 47 non-Israeli hostages were released. The next day, 101 more non-Israeli hostages were allowed to leave. More than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers (along with the non-Jewish pilot, Captain Michel Bacos, who refused to leave his passengers) remained as hostages and were threatened with death.

The IDF acted on intelligence provided by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Israeli leaders decided on a covert rescue mission, while publicly agreeing to a release of military prisoners. The operation took place at night. Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation lasted 90 minutes. They rescued 102 hostages. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and only one, their commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed. (According to Wikipedia, all the hijackers, three hostages, and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed; 30 Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21s of Uganda’s air force were destroyed. Twenty-four hours later, a fourth Israeli hostage was killed by Ugandan army officers at a nearby hospital.)  The rescue mission, named Operation Thunderbolt, is now sometimes referred to as Operation Jonathan.

Like King David, Yoni Netanyahu was a courageous military leader and a sensitive poet. Yoni’s letters as voiced in the film make me mourn for the man he was. Yoni, we hardly knew you!

Jonathan Gruber is the writer, director, and producer and Ari Daniel Pinchot is also director and producer. Follow Me is being distributed independently and it’s making its rounds of film festivals. It’s being shown in the greater Philly area exclusively at the Bala Cinema in Bala Cynwyd. At press time, it’s not known if the engagement will be extended beyond Thursday, August 2nd.

*Rabbi Dr. Joel Hecker notes that the library collection of Dropsie College is now housed at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dropsie College is now only known by its honorific, alav ha-shalom

How Stimulus and Health Care Reform Turned Out

Ezra Klein:

The latest Chicago Booth poll of economists focuses on the 2009 stimulus. The first question asked whether the stimulus increased employment by the end of 2010. Eighty percent of the polled economists agreed. Four percent disagreed. Two percent were uncertain.

The second question asked whether, over the long run, the benefits would outweigh the long-term costs (like paying down the extra debt). Forty-six percent agreed. Twelve percent disagreed. Twenty-seven percent were uncertain.

Dana Milbank:

At the last possible moment to save his reelection, the economy is beginning to hum, as evidenced by Friday’s jobs report. And Obama’s Republican opponents are shaping up to be as formidable as, well, marshmallows. While Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are making each other unelectable, the president is singing Al Green, congratulating Super Bowl winners, playing with science projects, raising obscene amounts of campaign cash and watching his poll numbers soar.

Health Care Might Not Be A Laughing Matter, But It Is A Comic Book

  • You won’t have to worry about going broke if you get sick.
  • We will start to bring the costs of health care under control.
  • And we will do all this while reducing the federal deficit.

That is the promise of the Affordable Care Act. But from the moment President Obama signed the bill into law in 2010, a steady and mounting avalanche of misinformation about the ACA has left a growing majority of Americans confused about what it is, why it’s necessary, and how it works. If you’re one of them, buy Jonathan Gruber’s new book Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works for yourself. (Perhaps get extra copies to give as Hanukkah gifts). From how to tame the twin threats of rising costs and the increasing number of uninsured to why an insurance mandate is good for your health, Health Care Reform dispels false fears by arming you with facts.

The author was interviewed by WBUR:

I think Mitt Romney is the hero of this story. But I want to make clear that the way he’s portrayed in this book has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. Mitt Romney is the single person most responsible for health care reform in this country: Without his leadership we don’t get reform in Massachusetts, and without Massachusetts reform we don’t get national reform.

Sample page from book and JSPAN’s resolution regarding ACA after the jump.
At its meeting on August 2, 2011, the JSPAN Board adopted the following resolution:

JSPAN, in keeping with the Biblical injunction that we are each others’ keepers, supports the availability of quality, affordable health care for all Americans. We support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as a critical step in achieving such availability. As the “mandate” section of the legislation, requiring all Americans to have health insurance, is essential for the Act to succeed and appears constitutionally valid as a federal power to regulate interstate commerce and assure the well being of the American people, JSPAN should investigate serving as an amicus in support of the defense of the Act in cases currently being heard by federal appellate courts and expected to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey


To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now).

This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War.

More after the jump.
Various rabbis argued both for and against slavery. Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore wrote in support of abolitionism in his German-language newspaper “Sinai”. In 1861, he was run out of town by the local pro-slavery community. Imagine how differently the Civil War would have played out had Gov. Thomas Hicks allowed Maryland to join the Confederacy.

The word Jew was used mostly as a verb with a negative connotation at that time, so the Jews in the film mostly referred to themselves as following the Mosaic tradition, as Israelites or as Hebrews. This latent anti-Semitism was probably a factor in Jews being excluded from the Chaplaincy in the Army and Gen. Grant’s infamous General Order 11 which expelled all Jews from the Tennessee Territory – the only expulsion of Jews in American history.

Jews were loyal patriots and began to expect fair treatment in return. The Jewish community directly petitioned President Lincoln in both of these cases, and Lincoln was quite understanding. Lincoln appointed our countries first Jewish chaplain, setting the stage for Jewish observances during all future U.S. conflicts. Lincoln also reversed General Order 11. During the 1868 Presidential election, the question of General Order 11 was raised by the secular press; Grant repudiated the controversial order, asserting it had been drafted by a subordinate and he signed the document without reading. Grant won the election, receiving the majority of the Jewish vote. In fact, Grant participated in the dedication of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC becoming the first American President to attend a synagogue service.

Civil War historian Gregory J. W. Urwin, professor of history at Temple University, moderated the post-film discussion with Jonathan Gruber, the film’s director, producer and writer, and Rabbi Lance Sussman, Ph.D. and senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, a lecturer and author on Jewish history.      

For a list of showings of to order the DVD, please visit the National Center for Jewish Film website.