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Waves of Memory

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Waves of Memory Waves of Memory
Written and Directed by Gad Aisen
Produced by Gad Aisen & Gilad Resef Making Waves Ltd.
Language: In Hebrew & English with English and Hebrew subtitles
Runtime: 75 minutes
Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films, Jerusalem (2014)

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 30, 2015

In 1939, the merchant ship Athinai, sank near the port town of Pireaus, Greece. She was later raised, primarily to be used for scrap. This was not to be her fate. In 1946, the Mossad l'Aliyah Bet purchased the ship, renamed her the Rafiach, and had her retrofitted to carry refugees. After a troubled journey from Greece, the Rafiach reached its first destination of Bakar in Yugoslavia, 785 Ma'apilim (immigrants), mostly Holocaust survivors, boarded the ship. (Or, more aptly, one could say that they were crammed into the small vessel). The goal was to run the British blockade of British Mandate Palestine, and land the ship in Eretz Israel. This was never to be, for in December of 1946, the Rafiach sank in bad weather off the coast of the Greek island of Syrna (Syrina). Through a series of fortunate events, most of the refugees on the Rafiach survived the sinking, and the very real threat of starvation that they faced on the barren island. But what really happened on the Rafiach, and what caused her to sink?

This is just part of the mystery that is tackled in the engaging documentary, Waves of Memory, which was directed by Gad Aisen. The story is told party through the animated story of Avraham Lichovsky, who was the radio operator on the ship and one of the true heroes of the expedition. He wrote a report about the ship's misadventures that are documented in the film. Also included are a wealth of testimonies about the sinking, which are presented by some of the ship's survivors, both members of the crew (mostly members of the Mossad), and the refugees, including Shlomo, who was just over a week old when the ship sank. The film provides a peak at a reunion/memorial that was held in 2010 at Mevo'ot Yam, to commemorate the sinking of the Rafiach. Also detailed was a trip that some of the survivors took back to Syrna. The documentary follows some divers as they swim down to take a look at the remains of the ship. One of the stories that came out of the sinking of the Rafiach was the tale of a baby that was saved from certain death. However, there are contrary versions of how this baby was saved? Might there have been more than one baby - you'll have to watch the film to find out.

The Aliyah Bet movement was one of the many miraculous and heroic endeavors that was undertaken to try to save Jews from the Nazi holocaust, and after the war, to slip survivors into Israel despite the British efforts to keep them out. I've heard and read of many of their success stories, as well as some of the partial failures where the Jews escaped Europe, but were intercepted by the British and sent to Cyprus. This is, however, the first time I learned about the Rafiach, and I found the story totally fascinating.

A few times, the story seemed a bit disjointed to me, such as when the divers went to visit the ship. Based on the narrative, I was unsure who they were. After a little investigation, it turns out that they were students from a naval high school in Israel who took up the task of locating the wreckage of the Rafiach. Who they were, and why they went looking for the ship was of little consequence to the story, I just like to have all the i's dotted.

The story is told mostly in Hebrew, with some English scattered about. Both Hebrew and English subtitles are available from the main menu. Overall, I found this to be an engrossing and informative documentary, and one that spurred me to delve deeper into the history of the Aliyah Bet (Ha'apalah) movement, and by extension, the founding of the modern State of Israel.

The film, Waves of Memory, is ideal for viewing by both teenagers and adults, and it could be used in both religious and secular settings.

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