Complexities of raising a disabled teen in Yams Journey

Like most adolescents, Yam Gat vacillates between asserting his independence and wanting to be coddled.

Rubi Gat faces a particular challenge in responding to his son’s moods. Yam has cerebral palsy and there are limits to what he can do himself.

The push and pull between the two plays out in the appealing Israeli short film “Yam’s Journey,” which screens at 1 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley. The 17-minute film offers a touching and picturesque record of Yam’s belated bar mitzvah trip to Europe in 2014, when he was 14.

Yam Gat and his father traveled to Europe in 2014.

Father and son will be traveling to the Bay Area for the screening, part of the Superfest International Disability Film Festival, and Gat will participate in a post-film Q&A. He said he is looking forward to the visit because he’s heard how welcoming the Bay Area is to those with mobility issues.

“We hope that not having to deal with accessibility again and again will allow us to deal with other aspects of life,” Gat wrote in an email from his home in Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem. “I think that accessibility is mainly technical and can be solved rather easily, and once this is behind us we can deal with more important sides of life.”

He reports that disability rights are gaining ground in Israel, but it has been an uphill battle.

“[When Yam was] in elementary school, I had to fight against the whole world to force the Ministry of Education to build an elevator to the library in the school,” Gat said. “It was a long confrontation and only after I got a lawyer involved, we got the elevator — three months before Yam graduated.”

When Yam entered junior high, Israel’s then-minister of education was himself the father of a disabled child; one letter was sufficient to get the process started in making the school accessible, according to Gat. Eventually, the school came around: “Three years later, the junior high management understood the benefits of having a different child in the system and tried to convince Yam to stay” instead of moving on to another school, Gat said.

“When Yam arrived at high school, it was a whole different story,” he noted. “There was a full awareness, and the school made all the adaptations needed without us having to ask for it. I guess that shows, in a way, the changes Israel is undergoing re: accepting differently abled people in society. The direction is right but we still have a long way to ‘walk.’ ”

In addition to screening “Yam’s Journey,” the Magnes will also host a Superfest program at 6 p.m. Oct. 22 that includes “Best and Most Beautiful Things,” a feature-length documentary produced by local filmmaker Ariana Garfinkel about a legally blind young woman diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome heading out on her own.

Superfest, which is produced by the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled and the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, concludes Oct. 23 with a third program of films at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

It is something of a coincidence that Superfest’s two venues are Jewish cultural institutions. The festival requires locations, such as museum spaces, that can accommodate many wheelchairs. That said, in recent years synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been increasingly and aggressively inclusive of people with disabilities.

Gat, who strives to improve public attitudes toward those with disabilities, recognizes that he has room to improve in his own interactions with Yam.

The most intriguing moment in “Yam’s Journey” is when the father acknowledges his dilemma: He knows that prodding Yam to do more on his own — like taking a shower — will improve his son’s abilities and confidence, even though Gat can save a lot of time and energy by just jumping in and helping out.

“Many people, out of good intentions, try to help disabled people, especially children. They fetch things for them, solve any difficulty they run into, and sometimes make decisions for them and speak on their behalf,” he said.

“In the long run it doesn’t work for the benefit of the disabled person, because he doesn’t have the chance to practice his own skills,” said Gat, who long ago promised himself “that I’d try to bring him up like any other kid.

“Most of us learn from our mistakes and grow up using the lessons we learned from our failures,” he said. “I believe we have to allow the same experiences to disabled children, as well.”

 “Yam’s Journey” marks the first in a series of films Rubi and Yam are planning. They shot footage of a trip to Italy in June, and plan to document their trip to San Francisco. “Hopefully,” said Gat, “all of that footage will turn into a longer documentary or a series of shorter ones dealing with various aspects of living with disabilities.”

“Yam’s Journey”
screens at 1 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley. Advance purchase only: $12. (In Hebrew with English subtitles). (510) 643-2526 or

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.