Female Strength and Resilience
If you have ever visited Israel, you probably did not get to Dimona. Some time right after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the desert town of Dimona was established and it was to be the home of Israel’s atomic weapons. Otherwise there is nothing there. In all of the years that I lived in Israel, I went to Dimona once—I did not exactly go to Dimona, I passed through it on my way to somewhere else but that also could be a trick of memory since Dimona doesn’t sit on the road to anywhere else. Nonetheless I do remember driving through.
Seven women who arrived in Israel by ship in the 1950s and 1960s were sent straight to Dimona and became “the women of the desert”. How they were able to start new lives and a build a society in the middle of the desert s what this film is about. Michal Avid made this documentary as a tribute to them and their strength and resilience. Israel, until recently, was not an easy country to live in especially for Europeans and Americans. It required sacrifice and change. If I could describe my first visit to an Israeli bank, you would understand. Immigration to Israel, in many cases, is the result of Zionist upbringing and the idea of helping to build the Jewish state. Immigration can also be an act of desperation as well as an act of hope. That desperation comes from what were once rough living conditions somewhere else and the hope that it will be better in a different place.
In the early years, new immigrants to Israel found harsh conditions and unwelcome environments and for the seven women who came to Dimona, this is exactly what they found. Dimona was settled in 1955, mostly by Jewish immigrants from the Northern Africa. This documentary is the extraordinary story of that settlement as seen through the eyes of the women who went there. They share their stories which are exciting and many times dangerous. All of them save one came form North African countries, mainly Morocco and Tunisia. Hana Levinstein came from Poland and all seven were in search for the “promised land”. The documentary is divided into five chapters with chapter about a different period of life in Dimona. The narrators guide us as we explore the extreme circumstances and the difficulties of settling down in the new inhospitable city.
I found that fascinating probably because I am an Israel citizen and also because so much interesting archival information and photos tell a story I had only heard in bits and pieces. There is sheer physical beauty all around Dimona and when we add footage of the places in North Africa that were once home to six of our women, we get a visual treat. The Dimona that we see here is not the Dimona that the average Israeli imagines (and I am sure there are many who have never been anywhere near Dimona).
Looking across the Mediterranean Sea and hearing the women we learn that when they lived in North Africa, they had a good deal of freedom and independence that these women used to have when they lived in North Africa. Morocco and Tunisia were colonized by the French until the 1950s and Jewish women had a high level of freedom and autonomy: they lived alone, they worked, they went to the cinemas and to theatres – they were modern, independent and dynamic women.
In a period when it became very common and in style for Jewish people to migrate to Israel, these young women (some of them still underage) left North Africa for Israel. However, when they arrived, they were sent directly to the recently established town, Dimona. Dimona sat in an empty desert with few buildings and isolated from the rest of the world. Our women began from nothing and started from to create a new life and a new society where none had been before. There women were determined and because they wanted so badly to have new lives, they succeeded. Their attitudes are inspiring as is their psychological resilience and the determination.