By William Wolf

ABOVE AND BEYOND  Send This Review to a Friend

Back in 1948 when Israel was fighting against Arab armies after it became a state, Jewish American pilots enlisted to fight for Israel’s survival. It is a heroic story, and the documentary “Above and Beyond,” directed by Roberta Grossman and produced by Nancy Spielberg, whose brother is Steven Spielberg, pays tribute to the men who rose to the occasion. It also unearths a little-known chapter in that war’s history.

The film, using clips, photographs and what appear to be reconstructed aerial sequences, is mainly based on interviews with the fliers who did battle and their recollections of what the challenge was like. The planes were mostly Czech and old crates used in World War II, but they were repaired and made do for what was needed. The men trained secretly in the U.S. and in Czechoslovakia and had to wend their way to Israel through circuitous routes. Theirs was an underground operation.

Interestingly, the pilots became more interested in their ethnicity than they had previously been as a result of their involvement and being inspired by the concept of a Jewish state. In addition to the serious talk about their fighting role, they recall the good times they had, thanks in part to some of the Israeli women.

The saga of this contingent, who risked loss of American citizenship by fighting in a foreign armed force, reminds me of what happened during the Spanish Civil War, when brave American men enlisted in the Lincoln Brigade to fight in Spain against Franco and fascism.

“Above and Beyond” sticks to its heroic situation and tells a story of the idealism that supported Israel’s right to be a sovereign country in the face of the attack intended to wipe it out. Ironically, there could have had a two-state solution at the time instead of the hatred and warfare that has continued.

The filmmakers merit praise for this stalwart work, which is fascinating as well as important. Besides, the survivors shown are an affable lot still excited by the camaraderie that became a touchstone of their lives and it is a pleasure to meet them. An International Film Circuit release. Reviewed January 30, 2015.


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