Fascinating film shines light on daring American pilots in 1948 Arab-Israeli War

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A film about Israel by Spielberg? Yes, but by Nancy, Steven’s sister.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m., the Israel Desk of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island will screen “Above and Beyond: The Untold True Story” at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence.

Nancy Spielberg says the “untold true story” in her documentary feels like some of her brother’s movies – a combination of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Band of Brothers” and “Catch Me if You Can.”

Would you risk everything – your future, your citizenship, even your life – to help a brother in need? In 1948, a group of American World War II pilots did just that. They volunteered to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. This motley group of heroes helped prevent the destruction of the new nation while establishing the framework for the Israeli Air Force. But more than a retelling of the ’48 Arab-Israeli War, “Above and Beyond” is filled with heart, heroism and high-flying chutzpah. 

Through the personal stories of the young pilots, whose experiences in Israel were life-altering, the movie examines the motivations of the foreign volunteers and mines the tensions between the Israelis and the Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

“Above and Beyond” also reveals how under-equipped and isolated the Israelis were, how desperately they needed planes and pilots, and how critical the actions of these young American men were for the country’s survival.

Sheri Linden observed in the Los Angeles Times that the film, “Soars with true adventure! Eye-opening. Indispensable. A fascinating chronicle of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war through the eyes of a daring group of men. Their enterprise [was] spearheaded … with all the intrigue of a spy novel. The twinkle in their eyes is unmistakable as they describe rambunctious younger days."

Filmed in the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom, “Above and Beyond” is produced by Nancy Spielberg (“Elusive Justice”) and directed by Roberta Grossman (“Blessed Is the Match”), with cinematography by Harris Done (“The Last Days”), special effects by Industrial Light & Magic and an original score from Hans Zimmer’s Studio.

The screening is the second in a series that takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the JCC. For more information about any of the Alliance’s programs celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday, go to www.jewishallianceri.org/israel-70 or contact Tslil Reichman, the  Israeli shlichah (emissary), at treichman@jewishallianceri.org. 

LARRY KATZ is director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance.