The Corner

R.I.P. Lia Van Leer, a Giant of the Israeli Film World

Israel is a success because it has people like Lia Van Leer in it. Israel offered her a chance and she took it. Born in Moldavia, she was 15 in 1940 when she escaped to Palestine, then under the British Mandate. She never saw her parents or grandparents again. The Nazis murdered them. Had she stayed with her family, she too would have been murdered.

Lia was a gentle, soft-spoken woman, but she had a will of iron. She needed it. By any standards, Wim Van Leer, the man she married and spent her life with, was a handful: an inventor, an industrialist, an adventurer, a pilot, extremely funny and extremely rude, in a word impossible. A play he and I wrote was put on at the Arts Theatre, and I translated the French script of a film he produced with the famous French director Chris Marker. Lia built a film library. Then she persuaded Teddy Kollek, the go-getting mayor of Jerusalem, to help her build the Cinematheque in that city. It was and is a success. More than a place in which to show films ancient and modern, here is a social center for young and old, Arabs and Jews. Lia knew how to attract the stars. The annual Jerusalem film festival is cosmopolitan competition for Berlin, London, and even Cannes. The good and the great (the self-important and the hangers-on as well) all came for love and admiration of Lia. Innumerable hundreds of guests must have been received in her beautiful house within walking distance of the Cinematheque. The waif from Moldavia had become a grande dame. She was 90 at the time of her death. R.I.P.

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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