Yamna’s Blessing [NYJFF 2023]

In partnership with The Jewish Museum, The New York Jewish Film Festival has returned to Lincoln Center for its 32nd year. Taking place January 12 – 23, 2023, this edition of the festival presents 21 features from around the world that explore the Jewish experience. TV and City is attending and will be covering several NYJFF titles.

By Elazar Abrahams

Ilanit Swissa’s documentary Yamna’s Blessing follows the quirk and pious titular 84-year-old, a self-proclaimed and accepted miracle worker servicing the city of Sderot, an area of southern Israel often under rocket fire. Throughout the brisk 55-minute runtime, we get a peek into Yamna’s life through the visitors that seek her blessings and wisdom. Whether a woman struggling with fertility issues, or Yamna’s own grandson trying to hit it big in the music industry, they hope to find solace in her “mystical powers.”

The film makes for an interesting character study, and beyond that, a light exploration of this weird subculture of religion. A mix of Orthodoxy, Kabbalistic rituals, and pure nonsense, Yamna’s instructions to those at her doorstep usually involved some sort of strange mixture of elements to either be consumed or sprinkled around the corners of a house. Yamna’s followers genuinely believe it works, and when their wishes come true, they credit her and her connection to God. The documentary doesn’t take a side here, which thankfully means the messaging isn’t too heavy or serious, instead just taking the form of a strange “slice of life.”

In fact, the movie is a really good snapshot of Israeli society as a whole. The folks coming to Yamna for blessings aren’t religious in the way we usually think of that word, and often they seem as secular as can be. There’s definitely a sense that all the villagers are yearning for some kind of deeper meaning in life and will stretch their imaginations to make their success depend on this senior citizen’s goodwill.

Yamna’s Blessing is a quick watch so if you think you may be interested, definitely try to seek it out. Yamna will stick with me; she is so upbeat and cheerful in an infectious way. She loves cracking jokes. May we all merit being that spry in our old age!

Yamna’s Blessing played at the New York Jewish Film Festival on January 16. Find more information HERE.