Wedding scene from Rock in the Red Zone (Photo: Laura Bialis)
Laura Bialis with her husband Avi Vaknin, a major figure in the documentary. (Photo: Facebook)

Laura Bialis with her husband Avi Vaknin, a major figure in the documentary. (Photo: Facebook)

Little known until recently was the incredible musical talent that emerged from Sderot, a city in the Western Negev that became a main target of Hamas rocket fire in 2001 and was dubbed the “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World.”

Award-winning filmmaker Laura Bialis outdid herself with her latest documentary about the beleaguered southern Israeli town of Sderot, which also describes the unique resilience of the People of Israel in the face of terror.

Rock in the Red Zone, which premiered at the Haifa International Film Festival in October and has been showing in other locations throughout the country, impressed audiences with the strength of its message coupled with an uplifting love story. At the Jerusalem Cinematheque last week, the audience gave Bialis a standing ovation.

Bialis, distraught by the news of the unrelenting terror in Sderot, traveled there from her native Los Angeles seven years ago to learn their story and to tell it. In the process, she fell in love with now-prominent musician Avi Vaknin, an integral character in the story. They have since married and are parents to a four-year-old girl.

Little known until recently was the incredible musical talent that emerged from Sderot, a city in the Western Negev that became a main target of Hamas rocket fire in 2001 and was dubbed the “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World.”

Sderot was established as a center for immigrants from non-Western countries in 1951. In that decade, it became a shanty town of refugees, mainly from North Africa.

After years of absorbing Jews from diverse places – mostly from Morocco – including an influx of newcomers from the Former Soviet Union, Sderot was recognized as a city in 1996.

Fifteen Seconds to Run to Safety

Since 2001, Sderot, which is located less than a mile away from Gaza, was a main target of Palestinian terror. From mid-June 2007 until mid-February 2008, 661 rockets and 857 mortar bombs were fired in its direction at an average of three or four times a day. Residents had 15 seconds to run to safety. As a result, post-traumatic stress disorder is prevalent among the population.

Filmmaker Laura Bialis (L) and attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who attended the Jerusalem premiere. Founder of Shurat HaDin, she focuses on suing terror groups and terror-supporting countries on behalf of terror victims. (Photo: Facebook)

Filmmaker Laura Bialis (L) and attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who attended the Jerusalem premiere. Founder of Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Center), Darshan-Leitner focuses on suing terror groups and terror-supporting countries on behalf of victims. (Photo: Facebook)

Thanks to the initiative of Vaknin, who, with the help of other professionals, gave talented local youth a creative, therapeutic outlet with which to express their feelings, first-class musical creativity has emerged from that badgered city in the form of Sderock. Bialis’s documentary makes an important contribution by telling the story of the real people of Sderot, who are much more than mere terror targets.

Vocalist Hagit Yaso, for example, an incredibly gifted Ethiopian-Israeli, in 2011 won first place on Kochav Nolad (in English, “A Star is Born”), an Israeli reality TV show promoting up-and-coming musical stars, based on the British Pop Idol competitions.

Indeed, while phenomenal talent has existed in Sderot, the place had become famous instead for being situated in the line of fire. Rock in the Red Zone, it is hoped, will gain the exposure it deserves and change all that, while at the same time letting the world understand the reality of coping with Hamas terror.

By Atara Beck
Senior Editor, United with Israel