BLACK TO THE PROMISED LAND follows 11 African-American teenagers from an alternative high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn to Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan, Israel. Led by their Jewish teacher, Stewart Bialer, the teenagers, apprehensive and full of misgivings ("Taking black kids to Israel? Why not Africa?"), leave their impoverished daily lives to spend three months as working kibbutzniks. This unique documentary film by Madeleine Ali, with background music by Branford Marsalis, was voted "Audience Favorite" out of the 83 films shown at the 1992 San Francisco International Film Festival.
"Black to the Promised Land" follows eleven African American high school students from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, led by their Jewish teacher Stewart Bailer, to spend three month working and leaving on Kibbutz in Israel...."fascinating study of the value of alternative education on disadvantaged youth and a powerful portrayal of the importance of cultural exchange"
Let me give you the recipe for one very strange -- and potentially volatile -- cocktail. Take a group of black high school students from Brooklyn's notorious Bed-Stuy section. Drop them on an Israeli kibbutz for ten weeks. Mix vigorously. Serve...Things get off to a rocky start. Misconceptions abound on all sides. The Bed-Stuy kids expect the kibbutz to be made up of mud huts with straw floors. Some Jewish teenagers expect a group of thieving drug dealers to show up at their gates.
Then, one day, things start to thaw. People begin to interact, using whatever tools -- language often not one of them -- that are available. A transformation begins, one that will leave you exhilarated and more than a bit moved. If you're worried about this being a candy-coated message film, don't! It's very real, very honest, and holds no punches. It doesn't take the easy route; it doesn't offer all the answers. What it does offer is a ray of hope, and that ain't bad.
Another element, though one has to keep one's eyes and ears open to it, is a film giving a gimpse, even if usually indirectly, of how a democratic and non-capitalist economic system might work. I hate to give away one of the few lines that directly speak to this in the entire film, but it doesn't hurt to hear it more than once. Given a workplace without the typical hierarchy with co-workers sharing responsibilities and giving "the new guys" tips and suggestions all the time, a Bed-Stuy student later reflects that, initially, it seemed like "everyone" else was his boss, until he later realized, no, it's more like, "there's no boss" at that kibbutz workplace -EconDemocracy.org (see the Variety review for the two direct quotes)
WashingtonPost: WashingtonPost writes:
As it turns out, "Black to the Promised Land" is an Israeli-made film, albeit directed by an American-born black woman, Madeleine Ali, who converted to Judaism. the film presents the initial suspicions and stereotypes held by the unworldly youths (Would all Israelis look like Brooklyn's Hasidic Jews?) and their unworldly hosts (Do all black Americans sell drugs and steal, or play basketball?)..By the end, thanks to the character-building effects of hard work and communal living, the black kids fall in love with the kibbutz. And thanks to their fundamentally friendly nature and their urban-
American stylistic peculiarities (regarding freestyle rapping and hand jive, especially), the black kids win the hearts of the kibbutzniks as well...
"Black to the Promised Land" exists not as a specific ameliorative, but as a general feel-good tale about fish out of water, an optimistic essay on human nature and, of course, a hearty endorsement of the ethos of the kibbutz, which is as political as the film gets. Ali devotes no attention at all to Brooklyn's polemical tribalism, and very little, in fact, to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Her focus is strictly on the 11 teenagers from the Bedford- Stuyvesant Street Academy, a public high school for truants and other hard cases. These young men and women carry the film,.. (A decent review until WashPost decides to back-stab the film in the closing sentences..in fact if open to different "narrative" styles, there is nothing surprising about the depth of bonds -ED)
Original 1989 story in New York Times before the trip: 11 Students Set to Study On a Kibbutz
In an unusual learning experiment, a group of Brooklyn high school students, most of whom have never journeyed beyond their own neighborhoods, will begin 10 weeks of classes next week on a kibbutz in Israel.
Eleven youths from the Bedford-Stuyvesant Street Academy, an alternative high school in one of New York City's poorest neighborhoods, will leave their desks behind Wednesday to pick avocados, feed turkeys, work in a fire-extinguisher factory and, lest they forget, do some schoolwork on the Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan, .. It will be the first time that a group of [any] public-school students from New York City will spend an academic term on a kibbutz, Board of Education officials said.
At first, these five girls and six boys had difficulty with the long hours and hard work that was commonplace on the communally run factory and farm, but eventually the profound egalitarianism and cooperative spirit won them over. Likewise, the kibbutz dwellers were apprehensive of the kids at first, envisioning violent drug-obsessed malcontents. Instead, the freshness and enthusiasm of the youngsters won them over..
A Tree Grows In Bed-stuy " Teens From One Of Brooklyn's Poorest Neighborhoods Bring Hope Back From Their Visit To A Kibbutz In Israel." Written 4 years later in 1993:
Recently, six of the teens who participated in that and subsequent programs gathered in the Brooklyn home of program organizer Stewart Bialer to talk over their trip and discuss the effect it had on their lives. For most, that effect has been profound. While some have had out-of-wedlock babies, others are in college or professional schools. One -- Daniel Vives -- decided the kibbutz experience was so extraordinary, he is now preparing for conversion to Judaism. He plans to return to kibbutz for a year in February and then decide about immigration...Similarly, 16-year-old Lovinia Hayward was deeply affected by the experience. When she came back to the crime-ridden Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford- Stuyvesant after her stint in Kibbutz Lahavot Habashan in Upper Galilee, she says she could not bear living in a city anymore. She moved to a small town in Rhode Island..'I liked it better, there wasn't too much excitement' she says. Today, cradling her 8-month-old baby in her arms, Lovinia looks back on her days in Israel with fondness and longing. She says she would love to go back, but she has little hope of finding the money. In the kibbutz, for the first time in her life, she says she lived without fear. 'It was such a community, everyone was together all the time'"..the trip was .. "put together by Bialer, who teaches science at Bedford- Stuyvesant Street Academy, a school for troubled and truant, mostly black teenagers in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City"
ED.org note: Let no one be confused: I hold no illusion on how much of Israel has been destroyed from within, so much more so today in 2015 than was already the case in the 1990s..But what the kibbutz movement means today, and even more so, back then; and still more, the ideals of communitarian or at least cooperative rather than materialistic-competitive-hyper-materialist living, is an important on-going model to think about for the sake of human survival
A young Israeli who thought "stealing, selling drugs" was the students' way of life decides "without them it will be terrible here. There will be no life." When the 3 months have passed, the Israelis are deeply attached to their guests. The American teenagers do not want to go home. BLACK TO THE PROMISED LAND challenges myths and stereotypes. It is a fascinating study of the value of alternative education on disadvantaged youth, and a powerful portrayal of the importance of cross-cultural exchanges.
"The students teach dances to the Israelis, and in turn learn Purim dances. It's mesmerizing to watch how easily bridges can be built between cultures." - Village Voice
while: "A unique documentary that challenges common African-American and Israeli stereotypes... The scenes depicting daily life of the kibbutz are wonderful and inclusive...Public and academic libraries will not want to pass this up either."
Obituaries for th eteacher who died in 2015: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/pressconnects/obituary.aspx?pid=176777319 (and short note here http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?pid=177147200 )