Filmmaker Laura Bialis included scenes from her Sderot wedding in Rock in the Red Zone

Rock in the Red Zone: music and romance in Sderot

Filmmaker Laura Bialis included scenes from her Sderot wedding in Rock in the Red Zone

Filmmaker Laura Bialis included scenes from her Sderot wedding in Rock in the Red Zone

When Los Angeles documentary filmmaker Laura Bialis came to Sderot in 2007 to see how its music scene was shaped by the unrelenting drum of Kassam rockets, she found a flourishing “little Liverpool” in the small working-class city less than a mile from the Gaza Strip.

Bialis fell in love with Sderot and married one of its musicians, Avi Vaknin. Ultimately, Sderot’s story became hers.

Rock in the Red Zone will have its world premiere on Oct. 14 at 2pm at the 30th Haifa International Film Festival.

Though filming began seven years ago, the movie ends with present-day scenes. Bialis believes its message is especially relevant in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge.

“The film is about life under rocket fire in the South, but as I was making the film I had the sense that in many ways Sderot is a microcosm of Israel, a kind of a metaphor,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

“Just like many Israelis wouldn’t go to Sderot, many people from the US wouldn’t come to Israel. They don’t understand how we can live here. One of the most beautiful and amazing things I discovered in Sderot was that people are incredibly resilient, and that was how it was throughout Israel in the latest war. Rockets were flying and there were still weddings and bar mitzvahs and people trying to live their lives,” Bialis says.

“My film is about the resilience of Israeli society, and how people in Sderot make music and continue their lives despite everything. And what’s happening in the story is not just about Sderot anymore. The film is kind of a prologue to what we’ve just seen this summer– the unbelievable reality that has existed in the South of Israel for years, to which most of the world has been largely indifferent.”

Young musicians rehearsing in Sderock, the city’s music club in a bomb shelter.

Young musicians rehearsing in Sderock, the city’s music club in a bomb shelter.

City of music

Bialis came to Sderot at the urging of some of the subjects in her award-winning Refusenik, documenting the 30-year international human-rights campaign to free Soviet Jewry. Their emails from Israel spoke of a humanitarian crisis in Sderot that the media were ignoring. By 2007, 7,000 Gazan rockets had hit Sderot, and thousands more were to come.

“I couldn’t just sit there and not do something,” she told ISRAEL21c when we initially featured her project in 2009. “I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘You have a camera and you know how to tell a story and make movies, so go there and do it.’”

She discovered that Sderot had earlier earned the moniker of ir hamusica, the city of music. “I’d always heard that good music comes from hard places,” she narrates in the film.

Moroccan-Israeli musicians from Sderot created a new genre of Israeli music by merging traditional North African melodies with contemporary rock. Iconic bands that started in the city include Teapacks, K’nesiyat HaSekhel (Church of Reason) and Sfatayim (Lips).

Bialis met Vaknin when he was managing Sderock, a long-running music club and rehearsal space in a bomb shelter. Later, he would propose to her in a different bomb shelter.

Sderot musician Avi Vaknin, featured in the film, married the filmmaker

Sderot musician Avi Vaknin, featured in the film, married the filmmaker

Vaknin brought major Israeli singers to work with his young protégés, turning music into a potent outlet for their feelings.

“The original idea was to suck the poison out of them; to let them scream … to let it all out,” he relates in the film. Vaknin produced two Sderock albums: “The Record Project” (2001) and “The Hope Project” (2007). In recent years, he’s worked as a solo artist with major Israeli performers such as Shlomo Artzi, Micha Sheetrit and Amir Dadon.

Bialis also followed local musicians including Hagit Yaso, an Ethiopian-Israeli who went on to win the TV talent show “A Star is Born” in 2011.

An American in Sderot

In the 1950s, North African Jewish refugees poured into Israel and many were assigned to the shanty town that was Sderot. Never a desirable location, its reputation sank even lower when the Kassams starting hitting about 14 years ago.

“Sderot felt abandoned in 2007,” says Bialis, who moved in with Vaknin while making the film. They relocated to Tel Aviv to advance Vaknin’s career, but take their daughter to visit family in Sderot weekly.

“I would go to buy furniture in Ashdod or Tel Aviv, and when people at the stores saw my address they would say, ‘What the hell is an American doing in Sderot?’ Then they had to find a delivery person willing to drive there.”

After Hamas rockets reached Tel Aviv and beyond in the summer of 2014, Israelis can empathize more with Sderot residents. But they are still under constant threat of attack as Bialis documented on camera several years ago.

Reluctantly, over time, she decided to turn the lens on herself and narrate the movie from her own perspective.

“I’ve never made a personal film before, but my story really tied it all together. Now I feel lucky that it took so long to finish, because after the situation this summer, it feels like the right time for the movie to come out,” says Bialis.

She has had many requests to screen Rock in the Red Zone on US college campuses. “That was one of my target audiences when I set out to make the film, because it’s a story about young musicians. But I also want it to be seen by the wider public.”

pic of the week
Picture of the Week

Photo of the Week – Rowing on the Yarkon

pic of the week

Rowing on the Yarkon River is a beautiful and relaxing pastime at any time of the year, but in the fall it takes on a special character as the trees begin to turn red and yellow.

The Yarkon hasn’t always had such good press. Heavily polluted in the 1990s, a huge amount of work has been done to clean up the river and make it habitable for wildlife again.
Today the park along the banks of the river is one of the largest green lungs for Tel Aviv, and is popular with local residents who go there to enjoy all sorts of leisure activities.

This week’s photograph was taken by Anna Kaplan/Flash90.
If you’ve got a photograph you’d like to feature on ISRAEL21c please send it in high resolution to Every week we will choose the best one to feature on our pages.

ABC shirt photo by Max Hochstein.

NUNUNU: the new black for babies

ABC shirt photo by Max Hochstein.

ABC shirt photo by Max Hochstein.

Mompreneurs Tali Milchberg and Iris Adler never claimed to invent the skull pattern, ABC lettering or star imprints. But they saw the potential of featuring these simple and modern graphics on high-quality cotton fabric that has made their edgy design label, NUNUNU, a fashion must-have.

Tali Milchberg and Iris Adler. Photo by Uma Hochstein

Tali Milchberg and Iris Adler. Photo by Uma Hochstein

Just take a look at what celeb-babies are wearing. Samuel and Seraphina Affleck (Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner), Flynn Bloom (Orlando Bloom & Miranda Kerr), Georgia Dane (Eric Dane & Rebecca Gayheart), Luca Comrie (Mike Comrie & Hillary Duff), Penelope and Mason Disick (Kourtney Kardashian & Scott Disick), Blue Ivy Carter (Beyonce & Jay-Z), Xander Jones (January Jones), Zuma Rossdale (Gwen Stefani & Gavin Rossdale) have all been seen decked out in the funky Israeli designs.

“We created a language that didn’t exist before, a unique design context,” Milchberg tells ISRAEL21c. “I didn’t invent the skull or the color black but [we made it our] agenda, as a company. Six years ago, people told us we were crazy, saying things like ‘Who would buy baby clothing with skulls’ or in black or deconstructed? And now I see GAP and H&M making knockoffs of our models. Our gut feeling was right.”

Star dress photo by Max Hochstein.

Star dress photo by Max Hochstein.

So right, in fact, that People magazine predicted there’s “no doubt we’ll see more mini Hollywood trendsetters wearing NUNUNU more and more.”

The Israeli design team is not just focused on the uber wealthy.

Milchberg, a mother of four, and Adler, mom to two, were tired of dressing their own kids in babywear clichés. They wanted something comfortable but with attitude.

And judging by their Facebook page and baby fashion blogs, a whole lot of parents share their view.

“If you’re looking for cute teddy bears or magical fairies, you’ve come to the wrong place. BUT! If you appreciate a kick ass cocktail of attitude, style and sense of humor you are without a doubt a member of the NUNUNU family!” declares the Toddlers and Tees fashion blog  in Holland.

Bestselling black

Adler and Milchberg’s studio in Kiryat Shaul, an affluent neighborhood of Tel Aviv, has a staff workroom and a retail showroom.

The friends and business partners have often been quoted as saying they steer clear of fads and trends. The basic colors of each new fashion line are always black, gray and white. Every season they add two new colors. Last season, for instance, included neon pink and neon yellow.

“Black is always the bestseller. It’s so rare and hard to find in children’s clothes. It’s so basic and while people were afraid of black six years ago when we started, now it’s more common,” says Milchberg. “Once they see how practical black is, that it hides the dirt, and how it looks good, they get it and want more and more.”

The trendsetting clothes feature the alphabet, stars and skulls or big bolded kid vocab like “NO!” and “WHATEVER.”

Heart shirt photo by Max Hochstein.

Heart shirt photo by Max Hochstein.

“We work with our heart,” Milchberg tells ISRAEL21c. “We don’t read websites that say what will be the next trend; we don’t look at magazines. We’re really working from our small point of view and our gut feeling and stuff we like.”

The two also take inspiration from their travels, adult fashion, architectural design, illustration and art. “We’re inspired from the world we’re living in,” says Milchberg.

Sold around the world

The company founded in 2009 is growing all the time. “We’re not a small company anymore,” says Milchberg. “We sell in 400 points around the world. Also we have a public-relations team in Los Angeles now, so it’s much more professional.”

It’s not unusual to find Milchberg and Adler at the Istanbul airport. The two fly in and out on the same day and use Turkey as a mid-way spot for business meetings with European and North American associates.

Adler, a fashion stylist, and Milchberg, a creative director, left their successful careers to give birth to NUNUNU.

At first, they called their baby Black Sheep. Two years later, when they wanted to trademark the company name, a lawyer told them Black Sheep was already taken. Milchberg remembered a friend had suggested NUNUNU – the Hebrew term parents in Israel use as a gentle, finger-wagging way of saying “No, no, no, don’t do that.”

NUNUNU’s items are unisex. Photo by Max Hochstein

NUNUNU’s items are unisex. Photo by Max Hochstein

Demand for their clothes has seen NUNUNU grow with the children wearing them, and the line now includes bigger sizes. And everything is unisex save for the dresses.

NUNUNU uses unique dying and washing techniques. It took Adler and Milchberg by surprise when they started getting phone calls from the assistants of celebrities asking for the “secret fragrance” in the clothes.

“People are obsessed with the smell. We prewash all our clothes so they get a deconstructed vintage feeling. And in this process they [gain] a smell,” says Milchberg.

NUNUNU recently showed its spring-summer 2015 collection in Paris and New York. Production takes six months, and it’s an Israeli process from start to finish. Manufacturing is done in the Druze villages of Julis and Yarka.

“When people hear ‘Made in Israel’ they know it’s of high quality,” says Milchberg.

Plans for the future include NUNUNU concept stores. Milchberg says they hope to open in Israel first and then franchise out if it’s successful.

Click here for more information.

Dead Sea silence
Picture of the Week

Photo of the Week – Dead Sea silence

Dead Sea silence

Dead Sea silence

It might be called dead, but actually divers have found new forms of life even in the Dead Sea, the saltiest body of water on the earth.

This unique sea – at the lowest point on earth – has long been recognized for its mineral properties that give relief from chronic skin, respiratory and joint conditions.

Whatever its health benefits, it’s also a place of great beauty and mystery.

This week’s photograph comes from

If you’ve got a photograph you’d like to feature on ISRAEL21c please send it in high resolution to Every week we will choose the best one to feature on our pages.

Malvina Goldfeld has traveled the world but loves living in seaside Jaffa.

The woman who won’t be boxed in

Malvina Goldfeld has traveled the world but loves living in seaside Jaffa.

Malvina Goldfeld has traveled the world but loves living in seaside Jaffa.

Malvina Goldfeld, PayPal’s 32-year-old head of business development for Africa, lived one summer in a Japanese village. When she asked to join her host on a fishing trip, he warned that even men got seasick on the boat. “It’s not a good place for a woman,” he told her.

“Well, now he got me. I was going to go at any cost,” Goldfeld relates in a TEDxTelAvivWomen presentation last December. Refusing his offer of seasickness pills (“I’m not some wimpy college kid; I’m an Israeli woman!”), she spent seven hours at sea keeping her nausea in check through sheer willpower.

“The problem with letting people put you in a box because of your gender or your ethnic identity or any other category is that your behavior shifts to conform to their expectations,” says Goldfeld. “Don’t let anyone put you in a box and set your limits. Only you do that for yourself.”

Born in Moldova, she immigrated to Israel with her family on her eighth birthday. The gifted youngster from Ashdod was selected at age 13 to join the Israeli delegation to the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Maine for outstanding teens from conflict regions.

“Being with talented kids from across the Middle East, discussing big issues and what we can do about the future, gave me a taste of what I could do outside of Ashdod,” she tells ISRAEL21c. Today she serves on the Seeds of Peace global leadership council.

Goldfeld has a bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from Princeton, a master’s degree in business from Stanford, speaks five languages fluently and three passably, and spent time doing research and/or working in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and Vietnam. Since June 2013, she’s been traveling extensively through sub-Saharan Africa in her role for PayPal.

“It’s super important to broaden your horizons and learn to see and understand other cultures and be empathetic to others’ points of view,” she says. “And it’s fun.”

Developing individuality

During her last two years of high school, Goldfeld was one of 200 handpicked students from 80 countries at the United World College (UWC) campus in Vancouver, Canada.

“Our school was like a global village. I had always felt like an individual, maybe because of being an immigrant, but being one of three Israelis on campus helped develop my sense of individuality,” she says.

Goldfeld is a founder and adviser of the Eastern Mediterranean International School, which just opened in Kfar Hayarok, based on the UWC model. Students will focus on environmental and economic sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Goldfeld helped found a new international high school in Israel.

Goldfeld helped found a new international high school in Israel.

“We’ll initially have 60 kids, 40 percent of them Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian, and the rest from all around the world,” says Goldfeld, who came back to Israel after high school to serve in the communications unit of the Israeli air force.

“I was always very connected to Israel, so I came back to do my military service like the rest of my friends,” she says. When she finished Princeton, she decided to come back to Israel and get a “real job.”

“After learning everything from Brazilian film to macroeconomics, I wasn’t sure what I could do. I can BS about anything; it’s one of my most important skills,” she says with a laugh.

Inroads in Africa

Goldfeld joined global management consulting company McKinsey as a business analyst for Israel and Europe. “That was an amazing way to build a career while being in Israel and not compromise,” she says. “The people there are talented and fun, and I ended up marrying one of them.”

She and Roy Hefer did not start dating until six years after she left McKinsey, and wed last May. In the intervening years, she went to Stanford, worked at a private equity firm in Vietnam and served as vice president of Battery Ventures, an Israeli early-stage venture capital fund for Israeli and European tech companies.

At PayPal (“my best job so far”), Goldfeld handles strategic partnerships with leading banks in Africa and is responsible for expanding PayPal’s business through sales and marketing.

“It’s like running a small startup out of PayPal,” she says. “Africa is still a fairly new market for us, and it’s wonderful to see the changes taking place on the continent in the past decade. There is a growing middle class and impressive penetration of technology, and it’s amazing to be part of that.”

When she mentors girls with leadership potential in Bat Yam through Kol Israel Haverim’s program Cracking the Glass Ceiling, Goldfeld encourages them to go into high-tech or other scientific fields.

“The goal is to be a personal role model and show them what a woman can do, which is often different from the models they see around them,” says the Jaffa resident and yoga enthusiast.

Her parents encourage all her activities but sometimes question her frequent travels.

“It would be missing out on life to stay in one place,” she explains. However, she adds, “It helped me to have this grounding and to know that Israel is my home, to know I haven’t lost my sense of identity and values.”