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What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

March 30, 2011 By:
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The Israeli Film Festival's "Missing Father" runs Saturday, April 2, 8:45 p.m., at Gratz College.

MOVIE MANIA

Father's daze?

What better way to define the dizzying dips of befuddlement and undeniable deep sense of frustration that met Yair Elazar on his quest to find out about his mysterious father?

Yair yearned for those evasive truths that would define the dad he knew only briefly since he died when Yair was only 10.

But the missing father he ultimately found was not one missing in action, but one whose place in his son's heart had been besmirched by tainted history: Lieutenant Gen. David Elazar (Dado), a fierce battlefield warrior, had been denigrated and held responsible in part for Israel's unpreparedness in the Yom Kippur War.

The shameful slam at his dad came from the Agranat Commission, whose finding a year after the 1973 war called up Israel's shortcomings in battle against Egypt and Syria, and led to Prime Minister Golda Meir's stepping down.

Yair has taken his own steps since to discover his "Missing Father," and that journey -- a juggle and struggle of history and hardship -- is what infuses the film, being screened on April 2, at 8:45 p.m., at Gratz College in Melrose Park.

It's all part of the continuing Philadelphia Israel Film Festival (www.iffphila.com).

"My father was a target, chosen to pay the price" of others' failings, claims Elazar of the commission, which controversially condemned the Israel Defense Force for failing on its mission.

Yair attempts to back up claims of his father's lack of culpability, going back to archival footage and interviews with those who knew his father and fought alongside him.

The self-described journey through jagged edges and shrapnel-sharp stabs at his dad was not what he expected: "I finished the journey a different man than I began."

It didn't necessarily start all that propitiously. "I was angry when he was alive," relates the son, 44, of his father, "angry that he diverted so much time to his country from his family."

'I Expressed My Feelings'

Dado was far from letter-perfect, this papa known as a war icon to Israelis prior to the Yom Kippur grenade that destroyed his reputation. Then there was the letter, written to a father by a son so angry that the expletives undeleted seemed to conflagrate right on the page.

"I have no regrets writing that letter," says an unrepentant son. "I expressed my feelings."

The filmmaker concedes that he doubts his own children will ever send him such a pistol-packing epistolary since communication has never been a problem with them.

"I like when my kids talk to me," he says.

The movie bespeaks not the young Yair's jealousy of the Jewish state usurping his father's time, but of those who run the country. "A nation is not a personality," he says, absolving Israel itself as a co-conspirator in his blame of his father for an abandoned childhood.

But there is still rage against the Agranat Commission: "If you read the transcripts of the released documents, you will see who the real war hero was," he claims of his dad, "and who the bastards really were."

"The Agranat Commission was wrong about my father."

Can this film right the image? Shown in Israel, it has clearly garnered support for a revision of historical findings, says the son.

In a way, it has also opened a whole new wonderland for Yair's children. The man who had been portrayed by society as a mad hatter has been given a new cap at home.

"They have gained a grandfather," he says.

And what does Yair get out of all this? A posthumous Father's Day gift to the man he rarely saw at home?

"I love my father, but this is not a gift to him. Nor was it an obligation I felt I owed him. I needed to do this for me. It was an obligation to myself."

Did he meet the obligation? "I started the journey hoping for closure; I thought it would be possible," says the son on a sojourn. "But I don't believe it has happened."

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