In The Stars of Stern, filmmaker Gad Abittan documents a public housing building which is going through drastic change. The building, located in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of western Jerusalem, is home to the filmmaker, who narrates the film with a lot of humor and charm.
I especially liked the fact that the filmmaker mixes his own personal story with the story of the building. He talks about his aliyah from Morocco via Youth Aliyah in the 1960s and his handicap as a result of being seriously wounded while serving in the Israeli army.
We meet diverse and fascinating tenants – some of them renters and some owners, some veteran Israelis, particularly from North African countries like Morocco, and some recent immigrants. We meet Clara, a veteran, who is the "soul of the building", running the house committee for many years; an elderly couple, recent immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who live a very lonely existence in this building; Moshe, from Morocco, who lives with his brother and is very playful with many of the neighbors, some of whom think that he might be somewhat disturbed. We are witness to some poignant shared moments between the neighbors, and also some disturbing funerals.
Abittan tells the viewer that the film started out as a love letter to his building and its residents, and eventually became a letter of farewell. We begin to understand the meaning of the farewell, when his neighbors begin to move out. In 2008, ultra-orthodox (haredi) families began moving in. Their families are quite large, and the apartments are too small. They leave their strollers and bikes in the entrance hallway, and the veteran residents complain.
Demanding respect from the secular Jews, the religious Jews begin to impose their lifestyle on the others within the public sphere – insisting that the women dress modestly, for example, which causes friction and arguments. As the tensions rise, more and more people decide to leave the building, and even more haredim move in. Today, the building is 70% haredi – the turnover took place in just under 10 years. When Clara decided to move out, Abittan admits that things were no longer the same. And he himself has decided to move to Tel Aviv, but it is very difficult to find affordable housing there.
This is a moving human story of identity and displacement in an old Jerusalem neighborhood. I found it to be compelling but sad.
The Stars of Stern (documentary, 60 minutes) is available from the filmmaker, Gad Abittan –