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2010-04-16 digital edition

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April 16, 2010  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Tampa filmmaker is making documentary on pre-Israel freedom fighters


Leora Chai Leora Chai As a small child growing up in Israel, Leora Chai had fantasies unlike that of many small girls — she dreamed of spies. Not comic book or movie spies, but real Jewish ones — the Freedom Fighters of Nili.

Nili, an acronym which translated from Hebrew means “The eternity of Israel will not lie”, was a Jewish espionage group in Palestine which helped the British fight off the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Some 30 individuals are known to have participated in the ring. Several notable Americans also helped the group with funds and information, including Judge Louis Brandeis and Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah.

As a budding filmmaker, Chai, 33, is committed to bringing the Nili fighters to life in film.

“I just want to tell their story,” said the Tampa resident who works at Congregation Kol Ami. “I want to separate the truth from the myths and legends.”

Doron Aaronsohn with his Grandfather Aaron Aaronsohn (who was named after his late uncle, the famed pre-Israel agronomist and Nili founder). Doron Aaronsohn with his Grandfather Aaron Aaronsohn (who was named after his late uncle, the famed pre-Israel agronomist and Nili founder). Chai, the film’s director/producer, has an apt partner in her production: Doron Aaronsohn, 28, an Israeli filmmaker and descendent of Nili founder Aaron Aaronsohn. Together they have begun interviewing those in the know about the spy ring.

The list so far includes several grandchildren of Aaron Aaronsohn’s brothers along with historians, including Ronald Florence, a Rhode Island resident who has written a book on the Aaronsohns.

Chai said the film also will include dramatic re-enactments of the spies at work, as well as vintage photos of the Aaronsohns’ life and times.

About 15 days of shooting and 70 minutes of footage have been completed. Chai said she has been working on the film for three years and hopes to complete it in about a year, if funds are available.

The International Documentary Association has provided some funds for the documentary.

Chai, who has been working in the movie industry for 10 years, has filmed several documentaries on auto racing, including Walk of Legends, about the history of stock car racing, and Speedland. The latter won first place in the “Real to Reel” film festival in Charlotte, NC, in 2007.

For more information on the film, call Chai at (813) 951-0981 or go on

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