Documentary places lens on transformation from grief to reconciliation

Australian trauma psychologist Esther Takac’s new film focuses on four bereaved family members on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Meytal and Bushra, center and right, in 'The Narrow Bridge,' a film by Australian psychologist Esther Takac, currently making the rounds of film festivals. (Courtesy: PR)
Meytal and Bushra, center and right, in 'The Narrow Bridge,' a film by Australian psychologist Esther Takac, currently making the rounds of film festivals. (Courtesy: PR)

Many words have been written about the unlikely friendship between Palestinian Muslim Bassam Aramin and Jewish Israeli Rami Elhanan, two bereaved fathers who cofounded the Parents Circle, an organization made up of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families.

It’s a story that is often recounted, including in author Colum McCann’s 2020 novel, “Apeirogon,” which offers a fictionalized account of the relationship and was optioned by Steven Spielberg.

Now Australian psychologist Esther Takac has turned her own lens on Aramin and Elhanan, exposing their trauma and healing process in “The Narrow Bridge,” a documentary film about their friendship along with two other grieving family members, all working to turn the unbearable pain of their personal tragedies into a grassroots peace movement.

Takac, a first-time filmmaker, offers a psychological take on Aramin and Elhanan, as well as two other mourners: Meytal, whose father was axed to death in his Jordan Valley yard, and Bushra, whose son was killed by Israeli forces outside the family’s home.

The film intersperses her separate interviews with each of the four bereaved people along with clips from the joint ceremony organized each year on Israel’s Memorial Day by the Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace. The annual gathering is fiercely protested by some who believe the joint ceremony is in poor taste and offensive to victims of terror.

Takac was first prompted to think about making a film like “The Narrow Bridge” after attending the ceremony one year.

“I was blown away by the ceremony, and I felt that other people needed to know this story,” said Takac. “It seemed like a model for people managing their trauma, and for conflict resolution.”

Takac was surprised a film hadn’t been made before about the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, although other movies have been made about Aramin and Elhanan’s friendship.

Takac, however, was thinking about the trauma and conflict resolution she has often experienced while consulting as a psychologist at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center, something she does regularly during visits from Australia.

She said she is often struck by the tension and conflict that is sometimes felt between Palestinians and Israelis in the close-knit setting of Hadassah, as well as the intimacy and vulnerability that also exists between the unlikely neighbors inside the hospital.

“I really feel like grief is an experience that levels people,” she said.

Trauma psychologist Esther Takac made the documentary film ‘The Narrow Bridge’ about bereaved Israelis and Palestinians who try to manage their grief and work with their former enemies. (Courtesy: PR)

Takac ends up bringing her own lens as a trauma psychologist to the film, eliciting powerful thoughts and emotions from Aramin, Elhanan, Meytal and Bushra.

She tries to understand how her subjects were able to make the switch from anger, rage and blame to a desire to understand and resolve their impossibly complex feelings.

Takac said the process of making the film forced her to push past her own boundaries and ideas about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Aramin, for instance, insisted their interview take place in his hometown of Beit Jala, a Palestinian village located over the Green Line with Israel, that is difficult to access for anyone with an Israeli passport, such as Takac and her crew.

Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli fathers Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan bring their stories to Esther Takac’s documentary film ‘The Narrow Bridge.’ (Courtesy: PR)

Likewise, a meeting of women from the Parents Circle at Bushra’s home offered up other insights about how some of the bereaved mothers consider their children’s “martyrdom” and the reactions of their friends’ and neighbors to their participation in the group.

“The insider-outsider thing can be useful,” said Takac. “I have enough knowledge and Hebrew but maybe being the outsider gives me perspective. I also think that being a trauma psychologist helped, I felt like I was the conduit for them.”

“The Narrow Bridge” is currently making the rounds of film festivals in the US after being screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer. Takac sees the film as a social impact tool that can be used to raise awareness of the possibility of brokering peace.

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