Portman visits Rwanda to open youth village

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 6, 2008

Hollywood star Natalie Portman visited Rwanda this week to highlight the opening of a youth village for orphans of the genocide, sponsored by Jewish donors and staffed by Israelis.

The Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Federation of New York managed to arrange a prime-time slot for the Israeli-born actress, whose real name is Hershlag. The feature she was filming in Rwanda is set to broadcast in a few weeks on America’s number-one talk-show, Oprah.

On stage during the Cannes film festival

The village, which will open in August, is the brainchild of Jewish philanthropist Anne Heyman from New York. It will be modelled on the Yemin Orde youth village in northern Israel and the teachers will be Israeli Ethiopian immigrants. The students will be 500 orphans of the Rwandan genocide and the educational philosophy will be similar to that which guided Israeli youth villages set up for Holocaust orphans 60 years ago.

There was strict secrecy surrounding Ms Portman’s involvement, with no press announcements made and no photographs released before the programme was aired. The confidentiality caused a mix-up when on Sunday the Israeli media reported that Ms Portman was visiting Ethiopia to support the Falashmura who are battling to be allowed Israeli citizenship.

JDC representatives said that she had simply been taken on a tour of its projects while on a stopover in Addis Ababa but insisted they could not say anything about the star’s journey to Africa and certainly had no photographs.

Last updated: 3:23pm, February 23 2011