This month amidst the war between Israel and Hamas, at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) under the auspices of the MOT and Israel Consulate General to the West Coast, USA, Hilary Helstein, LAJFF Executive Director, organized the screening of the Israeli film Seven Blessings, Israel’s official entry to the 2024 Academy Awards.
The film, released on September 7, 2023, is full of Moroccan-Jewish folklore. It is based on the Jewish wedding Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot) tradition celebrated by an extended Jewish family of Morocco origin that takes place in Israel during the 70s-80s period.
Each time the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF) invites me to review a film that they chose for screening I am intellectually rewarded.
LAJFF thrives fearlessly and with no hesitation to bring to light Jewish culture and tradition through the big screen.
What is the Seven Blessings (Sheva Brachot)
The Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) are the heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony. These blessings are recited under the ‘huppah’ – the traditional canopy under which the wedded couple stands, and also during one week of seven celebratory meals after the wedding ceremony.
During the wedding ceremony, the seven blessings are traditionally chanted in Hebrew and may also be read in English if the wedding takes place in an English speaking country. In the Sephardic tradition, which includes the tradition of Jews of Moroccan origin, to recognize the intimacy and significance of the moment, a parent often wraps the bride and groom in a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) before the recitation of the seven blessings.
In our modern world, which at time enhances the old tradition while moving into a contemporary one, sometimes a couple uses the theme of “blessing” to creatively interpret the reading of the Sheva Brachot; I.e., they invite seven family members or friends, each recites one of the blessings, or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer recitation of seven non-traditional blessings in the local language of the country where the wedding takes place.
Since the largest Jewish community outside of the state of Israel resides in the United States, there are many English interpretations of the Sheva Brachot available. To accommodate the guests, couples often include in their wedding program the Sheva Brachot in Hebrew as well as in English so that guests can fully participate in this important moment in the ceremony. Traditionally, everyone present may also join with the leader in singing parts of the final blessing.
Seven Blessings Story
The film’s story, directed by Ayelet Menahemi, takes place during a wedding of one of the family’s daughters; it is a tapestry of seven meals at seven different family members’ homes who are rather dysfunctional and rowdy. These seven occasions take the viewer into the family’s nitpicking grievance as well as giving family members a cleansing and forgiveness opportunity.
The bride, Marie, actress Reymonde Amsallem, travels from France, where she lives, to Israel, where her family now lives, to marry her one true love. Though the Seven Blessings week is based on festive meals in honor of the bride, the week turns into a sad comedy about a family web of crimes, emotions and loss.
Marie was just two years old when her multiple children’s mother “loaned” her to her infertile sister, at that time a common Moroccan custom. Forty years later, Marie arrives in Israel from her home, France, for her wedding, to be walked down the aisle by both her real mother and the mother to whom she was “loaned.”
Marie’s large family prepares the traditional Seven Blessings festive meals week in honor of the bride during which Marie opens old wounds and unpleasant secrets surface. The celebration becomes food festivities spiced with sentimental explosion, emotional fury and even belated forgiveness.
So far Seven Blessings won the Ophir Awards for Best Picture and nearly every other prize for which it was nominated.
The Ophir Awards, named after Israeli actor Shaike Ophir, a film and theater actor, comedian, playwright, screenwriter, director, and the country’s first mime, has been granted since 1990. Awarded by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television for excellence in the Israeli film industry, the Ophir Awards is colloquially known as the Israeli Oscars or the Israeli Academy Awards.
As the winner of the Ophir Awards Best Film Prize the film Seven Blessings has been automatically put forward as Israel’s official submission selection to the Best International Film category of the 2024 Academy Awards, the Oscars.
New Film Venture
The Seven Blessings all female film team, director Ayelet Menahemi and writer-actress Eleanor Sela are scheduled to tell the story of an all-female brave tank unit who fought heroically against the horrific October 7, 2023 Hamas terror attacks on Israeli civilians. The filming is expected to begin in fall 2024 to be produced by Ehud Bleiberg’s Los Angeles-based Bleiberg Entertainment (In the Land of Saints, The Band’s Visit) and Ronen Ben Tal, who also worked on Seven Blessings.
Israel’s film content has become the most sought after in Hollywood. All that remains to say here is good luck to the Seven Blessings film creative team in all their future film ventures.