Part III: Interview with filmmaker Nancy Spielberg
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Dorri Olds: Does it worry you that your daughter lives in Israel? It is such a scary place these days.
Nancy Spielberg: My daughter was there when somebody took a tractor in Jerusalem and plowed into a crowd. That was during the intifada. That scared me. I know it’s very controversial but when they put the wall up there were actually terrorists there. I had been locked in my apartment and wasn’t allowed to go out into the streets because they said a terrorist had gotten into the city. There was a big parade that day. So, yeah, that got a litte scary.
And I was there during the war but now I’m really not frightened for her. I don’t feel frightened in Israel. Sometimes I’m frightened here in New York City, especially in the subways. I feel frightened of terrorist activities here. I don’t think we have a grip on terrorism. You get into a crowded subway, packed body-to-body and in the winter everybody has heavy coats on. You have not a clue who is next to you.
When things happen that are so random — like what happened in Paris — that’s frightening. I think it’s frightening anywhere in the world right now. I think Israel has had to live with a watchful eye for so many years that the first time I went there and I went to a movie theater and somebody looked in my purse, I was like, “How dare you?” Then I got used to it and now I welcome it and I wish somebody would look through my bag when I get into a New York subway and everybody else’s bag. So I’m not worried.
Today she sent me a picture of herself wearing a gas mask but the picture had a dog sitting next to her and she complained that the dog had gas. I’m glad she can make jokes out of it. I know she’s happy there.
The movie’s heroic pilots are:
A bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II, Frankel received the Navy Cross for his heroism in the Battle of Okinawa. “I just made up my mind that I was going to do it,” he says of his decision to volunteer for Israel. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do it.” Frankel flew 25 missions for the Israeli Air Force as a member of the101 Squadron before returning to Minnesota.
A U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, Goldstein’s plane disappeared over France in 1943 andhe was declared “missing in action.” He crossed over the Pyrenees to Spain and was eventually rescued. For this reason, Goldstein kept secret from his family hisdecision to fight for Israel. After flying in the IAF’s 101 Squadron, Goldstein stayed inIsrael for 32 years and became a pilot for El Al Airlines. He died in 2014.
After serving in the Marines in the Pacific Theater, Lenart volunteered to fly for Israel and led the Air Force’s first combat mission on May 29, 1948, stopping the Egyptians less than 30 miles from Tel Aviv. “I was born to be there at that moment in history,” he says. “It’s the most important thing I did in my life.” Lenart later helped airlift Iraqi Jews to Israel and became a pilot for El Al Airlines, as well as afilm producer.
The former U.S. Army Air Force pilot flew 88 missions over Europe in World War II. After Lichter volunteered for Israel, he was singled out for his expertise as a flight instructor and trained the first wave of Israeli pilots. He became Israel’s chief flight instructor. “I really did get a lot of satisfaction training those pilots,” Lichter says. “That was the beginning of the Israeli Air Force.” Lichter passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.
A former U.S. Army Air Force pilot, Lichtman shot down an Egyptian Spitfire on June8, 1948, in one of the Israeli Air Force’s first missions. “I was risking my citizenship and possibly jail time,” he says of fighting for Israel. “I didn’t give a shit. I was gonna help the Jews out. I was going to help my people out.” Lichtman flew more than 30 missions for the 101 Squadron. He returned to the U.S. after the war and lives in Florida.
Part of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ transport squadron in World War II, Livingston joined Israel’s Air Transport Command and flew critical supplies, weapons and airplanes between Czechoslovakia and Israel during the war. “The idea that Jews were going to fight back I found exciting,” he says of his service for Israel. “It’s about time.” Livingston became a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter, penning the script for Star Trek.
A former stunt pilot who flew for the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force, Rubenfeld was one of the first volunteer pilots in Israel, narrowly missing out on the IAF’s first combat mission when there were five pilots but only four planes to fly. He flew the next day, May 30, 1948, on a critical mission that stopped the Iraqi Army. After volunteering, Rubenfeld returned to the U.S. His son Paul Reubens became famous as the character Pee-wee Herman.
Regarded by many as the father of the Israeli Air Force, Schwimmer worked for TWA and was a flight engineer for the U.S. Air Transport Command in World War II. Upon learning of the need for aircraft for the new nation of Israel, Schwimmer smuggled about thirty surplus planes to Israel in 1948. He also recruited pilots and crew from the U.S. After the war, Schwimmer was indicted for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act and lost his citizenship. He stayed in Israel and founded Israel Aircraft Industries. In 2001, he was pardoned by President Clinton.
A navigator-bombardier with the South African Air Force, Simon flew missions over North Africa and Sicily in World War II. He and his wife Myra Weinberg pushed their wedding date earlier in 1948 so they could both volunteer for Israel. Simon flew more than 20 missions during the war, in a range of aircraft including B-17bombers. He became Chief of Air Operations for the IAF and is currently chairman of World Machal.
“Above and Beyond” opened January 30, 2015 in New York City at Village East Cinema.