‘So beautiful, so Genesis’: ‘I Am Israel’ documentary more than a travelogue

Jonathan Rosenberg, Israeli Cowboy, on horseback in the Golan
Jonathan Rosenberg, Israeli Cowboy, on horseback in the Golan

I Am Israel, filmmaker David Kiern’s new documentary about Israel and Israelis boasts an original musical score, resonant narration and spectacular photography — and these alone make it an exceptional and worthwhile film. But its technical prowess pales beside its theme: the ongoing restoration of Israel.

“There’s definitely something happening,” says Jonathan Rosenberg, an American expat fresh out of the IDF who is featured in the opening.

Having resumed private life as an Israeli cowboy in the Golan, Rosenberg tells the camera, “Everybody’s feeling it, whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s in the States…people my age…are getting a lot of hate… [and] it’s definitely breeding a new love and a new calling for people to come to Israel.

“There’s been an abundance of people from places where they felt comfortable to come and start a new life here… There’s something in the air that’s changed. It’s having a big effect on kids coming and wanting to join the IDF or coming to live in Israel itself and, you know,” he flashes the beginnings of a broad smile, “…get ’er done.”

“Israel is to me my everything,” Rosenberg says. “My dream. My hope. My future. My family’s future. God willing all of that will come true the way it should be. The way it will be.”

Israel is to me my everything. My dream. My hope. My future. My family’s future. God willing all of that will come true the way it should be. The way it will be.

Rosenberg is one of six Israelis in the film whom accomplished actor and narrator, John Rhys-Davies, introduces to the viewer after inviting him to, “Journey with us now to the land of Israel and meet the people who call this place home.”

“About three and a half years ago I got invited to come to Israel by a business executive,” filmmaker David Kiern told KNI. “Essentially, God had told this man, a friend of mine, ‘Go to Israel and take David Kiern with you.'”

A documentary filmmaker based in Nashville, Tennessee, Kiern has done many different films “but they all have an essential core to them — showing people what God is doing all over the world,” Kiern said. “I’ve done that in South Africa, in India, in Cuba and at Mount Everest…always about, ‘God is on the move and [here is] what he is doing in the world.'”

“Israel had never been on my radar, but that changed completely as soon as I got there,” Kiern said. “We did not take a typical tour. We spent breakfast, lunch and dinner, almost every day, meeting with people.

“It hit me, six or seven days in, that they were all telling a similar story: How they came to Israel, or how their parents came to Israel, or how their grandparents came to Israel…telling their aliyah stories.

“To them that was the most exciting thing to talk about. I found that fascinating. At the end of the trip Jeremiah’s prophecy came to mind: There will come a time in the future when the Jewish people aren’t going to talk so much about Egypt but about how God had brought them [to Israel] from the north, south, east and west. That just really hit me.” (Jer. 16:14-15)

Kiern was also struck by the beauty of Israel. The fact that, in his words, “Christians all over the world had no clue [about Israel’s] beauty because the images they [normally] see are not so beautiful or peaceful.”

Those two impressions upon visiting the land led to the making of I Am Israel.

Shlomo Kashi, a great-grandfather living in Elon Moreh in the Samarian hills northeast of Nablus, is the first of the film’s principals to appear.

“I believe in Israel and I believe in her people,” Kashi begins his personal tale. “It is here that God first promised my people that he would care for us in this land.” (Gen 12:6-7, 33:19)

Shlomo with grandchildren near Elon Moreh
Kashi with grandchildren near Elon Moreh

“We believe in God,” Kashi says, standing beside his grandchildren while gazing upon Mount Moreh, “and hold strong to his promises.”

Another subject, Batya Sela, mother of two small boys, recounts that, “Everything seemed so beautiful, so Genesis,” after visiting a friend of hers near Itamar who lived on “an organic farm in the middle of nowhere.” But on that fateful visit to the Samarian hills, Sela discovered her roots. Soon after she abandoned city life with her husband and sons to move to the region.

“I love it,” she tells the cameras. “I feel I’ve found my soul.”

Batya Sela and her family
Batya Sela and her family

I love it. I feel I’ve found my soul.

“One of the things I love most is telling my boys stories,” Sela continues. “We open the Bible and we read outside. It’s so easy. I can drive five minutes and tell my son, ‘Look, you see down there, you see this building, this is Joseph’s tomb. Abraham stood here; this is what he saw and where he raised his family.’”

Viewers are also introduced to Alex Levin, a gifted Israeli artist from Tel Aviv, Daniella Avraham, a tour guide in Jerusalem whose grandfather survived the Holocaust, and Yaakov Berg, a visionary winemaker. Each tells an amazing story beautifully without benefit of, or need for a script.

“To me Israel is family more than anything else,” Sela concluded. “I want [my children] to handle their fears and to build houses here…to be able to sit on the porch and, at the end of the day, drink their coffee and live peacefully, not being afraid of anyone coming to kill them. That’s all that I can wish for.”

I Am Israel will screen for the leaders of Israel, by invitation, at the Knesset on Nov. 6.

Click below to view the full theatrical trailer.

To purchase DVDs and BluRays of I AM ISRAEL visit IAmIsraelFilm.com.