a documentary by filmmaker Shira Lavy-Vittis, is a 20 minute
documentary film about the life story of Lavy-Vittis’ maternal
grandmother, Hannah Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz, a single mother in the early
days of the Jewish State, raised her daughter on Kibbutz
Shefayim. The film gives insight into Lefkowitz’s decisions and how she
came to terms with her unconventional lifestyle.
Together with her
grandmother, Lefkowitz immigrated to Palestine in 1933 when she was 13
years old. As a resident of Palestine under British rule, in 1942
Lefkowitz worked as a nurse for the British Army in Egypt. It was there
that she met her lover Harry
Fitzsimmons, a wounded British soldier. After learning that she was
pregnant, Lefkowitz returned to Palestine and Fitzsimmons returned to
his native England. Lefkowitz moved to Tel Aviv where her daughter was
born. Subsequently, she began her lifelong career as an English teacher
on Kibbutz Shefayim, just north of Herzliyya. For Lefkowitz this meant
the beginning of life on kibbutz for her small family. Life on the
kibbutz enabled her to have financial freedom and a relaxed state of
mind. As a single mother in an unstable economy she didn’t have to
worry about becoming homeless. She raised her daughter, and later her
granddaughters, in the socialist community.
reflects upon the life of a woman who made independent choices and
raised a family in a world where women were expected to marry, raise
children and take care of the home. Never daunted by the responsibility
and possible repercussions of being a single mother, Lefkowitz taught
her family and her many students the need to accept life with a full,
positive environment for oneself and one’s family and friends.
The film uses
documentary footage from the 1940s and 1950s which help to bring the
Lefkowitz’s stories to life. Seeing the young Lefkowitz in images as
she narrates her own life story helps the viewer to comprehend
the historical period through which she lived.
The story was not easy
for either the main character or her filmmaker granddaughter to tell.
“At first, many years ago she (My grandmother) didn’t want to tell her
story. It took a few years to convince her but I think
she understood that it was important to me,” said Lavy-Vittis. “The
fact that the film would be made public made it harder for her to share
“We always had a strong relationship. My grandmother was very involved
with us and had a strong influence over me as I was growing up. Until
especially since my own mother passed away, she is like a mother to me.
Since making the film, we are even closer. The film has enabled me to
understand her better. Other women always regarded her as a bohemian
figure. Through the film I discovered a benevolent side to her.”
The film alludes to the post-WWII period in Israel where so many people
were orphans. Subtly it demonstrates how people without role models
the country from scratch. The film enables viewers
to participate on examining the ethical and moral issues that confront
Israelis today. It examines questions of Zionism, dreams and reality.
Throughout the film there is a running theme of a blue
balloon in flight which alludes to the way people are pulled in
different directions throughout life. Additionally, the balloon
symbolizes lost dreams.
Lavy-Vittis went to “Find my grandfather in England . When I was
making the film I realized that I needed closure with the loss of my
mother as well. Making the film helped me.”
Women and the strength of sisterhood is one of the films
strongest messages. In Lavy-Vittis’ life “the men disappear and the
women remain. Because that is the way I grew up. There were three
generations of strong
women (before me) who led independent lives.” The message in
Missing Harry is clear: it is possible for a woman to raise a family on
her own. There is a price to pay for independence, and there is pain.
Women can and should use the right to choose what is correct.
Lavy-Vittis learned the lesson of independence in a natural way, from
both her mother and grandmother. She believes that women should build
self-pride, evaluate what they can achieve and learn to cope with the
different situations they are dealt. Additionally, she feels that it is
important for men to understand and to respect the challenges that
The filmmaker’s parents divorced when she was a child. “It was only
after my mother died that I built a relationship with my dad. The film
helped me to understand my dad, mom, grandmother and me. I just got
married and the film helped me address and deal with questions of
marriage as well.”
The film leaves the viewer intrigued and full of thought about an
independent Jewish woman who created a world as she lived through
history by a woman and a family of women — but don’t misunderstand –
it is not a women’s film, it is a learning experience for all.
Lavy-Vittis received footage from the Imperial War Museum in London, the Speilberg Foundation, and Kibbutz Shefayim Archives.
The film was shown at the Imperial War Museum.
It was her final work for granduate school in England. Her husband Omri
Vittes did some of the filming and wrote the musical soundtrack.
Text by Michele Kaplan-Green
Photos from the film, Missing Harry.