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Jonathan Gruber
photo by Rhonda J. Prepes

Christine Melnick
photo by Rhonda J. Prepes

photo by Rhonda J. Prepes

Yoni Netanyahu



by Rhonda J. Prepes, January 20, 2013

Director Jonathan Gruber enlightened the audience following the Winnipeg premiere of his movie “Follow Me - the Yoni Netanyahu Story” on January 13th, 2013 presented by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. About 150 people attended the event, which was sponsored by Abe and Barbara Anhang.

Margaret Shuckett, President of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canadian Friends of the  Hebrew University,  introduced the film and welcomed the director.

“Yonatan Netanyahu was a hero in the true sense on the word. The film is particularly appropriate for a Hebrew University event as he was an academic at heart and he also studied at Hebrew University. Director Jonathan Gruber is a bright capable incredible individual," she said.

The film is the story of Benjamin Netanyahu's brother Yonatan, commander of an elite Israeli army commando unit who was killed during Operation Entebbe. The Operation was a hostage-rescue mission carried out at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976, after pro-Palestinian extremists hijacked an Air France plane with 248 passengers aboard.

The film consists of two intertwining stories. The first is the dramatic Entebbe hijack and rescue, while the second is the remarkable life story of Yonatan Netanyahu. The narration of the film is from Yoni’s own letters which he had written to his family and friends, that they had kept for all these years. Yoni's writings illustrate the internal struggle between his great sense of duty and responsibility for his country and his academic, family, and personal pursuits.

As director, producer, and writer Jonathan Gruber said, “I was struck by how lyrical and poetic these letters were and I really wanted to make this film in that same lyrical and poetic way to make it very evocative and visceral, and cinematic, and immersive - not in a sort of traditional documentary.”

The film features interviews with three Israeli Prime Ministers, Yoni’s ex-wife and his girlfriend, former members of the Israeli army, government officials, and recently released audio from the Entebbe operation.

“The hardest interview to get was Tutti, Yoni’s ex-wife. She had never done an interview before about this… but, eventually she consented. It was remarkable because Bob, her third husband, had never heard many of these stories. It was just so emotional in that room. That to me was probably the most powerful interview,” said Gruber, who is originally from New York City and now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“The interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu also was very unusual, unique, and powerful. There was a whole range of emotions going on there when he was talking about his brother,” he added

“We were told that we were not going to be able to interview Ben-Zion, Yoni’s  101 year old father. As we were setting up for the PM’s interview, Ben Zion appeared. We spoke to him for about 5 minutes. It was remarkable to have that - what we think is probably the last interview he ever did.”

As Gruber, who owns Black Eye Productions which manages film projects from conception through distribution, concluded “It was remarkable to me that so many people really had those memories right there even though it was 35 years later. Yoni was such a tremendous, rare individual that he stuck with people and they remembered all these things about him.” 

The film shows that Yonatan Netanyahu was a complex person. He was a charismatic individual, a scholar, a courageous and committed soldier who possessed the leadership abilities to dare to make a difference.  By leading the dramatic raid to free the hostages at Entebbe with bravery and selflessness, 30 year old Yonatan Netanyahu became a tragic young hero.

Gruber explained that Executive Producer Mark Manson provided the funding for Director Ari Pinchot and Gruber to make this movie. The movie is now available on Netflix and Rogers in Canada.

Invited guest Christine Melnick, MLA for Riel, Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism, conveyed the story of how after years of trying to do something in remembrance of Yoni Netanyahu, she was finally able to lay a stone in the shape of a heart that she had found in the Canadian Shield on Yoni’s grave at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem in honour of his heroic efforts in 2005.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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