Atonement Day

By Jenni Frazer, November 16, 2010

Kippur, or Atonement Day, is a sweet and rather unexpected short feature film made by the students of the Beit Berl College Film Department in Israel which candidly depicts the gap between religious and secular Jews.

Neta, a medical student, lives in a slightly squalid Tel Aviv apartment with a floating population of permanently stoned flatmates, most of whom spend their time either playing tv games or watching violent films.

For the flatmates, Yom Kippur is just like any other day; and for Neta, too, it's a day when she can take her bike out and cycle round the near deserted streets.

But they're not entirely deserted. Coming round a corner too fast she crashes into Meir, a late middle-aged man on his way to shul. He's testy, in pain, and determined to try to get to shul without Neta's help. Though she plainly hasn't any concept of religious prohibitions — she offers him water only to be waved away as Meir is fasting — she finally prevails on him to accept a makeshift ride in a wheelbarrow to his own cramped apartment.

And that ought to be that. Except that Neta keeps going back to help Meir, first with an elasticated bandage for his injured foot, then with a makeshift crutch that she's fashioned out of a broom. En route she unburdens herself about her father, who, we learn, abandoned her at the age of three to go and work in Chicago and has just come back to Israel.

Please, I thought, don't make Meir turn out to be the missing father. But the Beit Berl students have a better ending than that.

Conscious that Meir is missing the final prayers of Yom Kippur, Neilah, Neta takes a practical, hands-on approach and rounds up a makeshift minyan so that he can pray in his apartment. It's a cute though slightly improbable resolution. And, just for a moment or two, the worlds of the religious and the secular make common cause.

Atonement Day is just one of the films on offer at this year's UK Jewish Film Festival. Find out more here

Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011