The Adventures of Gadi Ben Sossi

Arieh Navon
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Drawing and animation by Arieh Navon – Written by Avigdor Hame’iri – Produced by the Agadati Bros. – 1931

One of the more recurring motifs in the local Jewish art of the 1920s and ‘30s is the image of the ‘Yemeni’ who, in the early days of Zionism was a symbol of ancient, rooted Hebrew identity which also happened to be one of the sources inspiration for the model of the “new man” Zionist pioneers were set on creating in the land. This pioneering spirit also features in caricaturist, Arieh Navon’s 1931 film, The Adventures of Gadi Ben Sossi. The film which, by all accounts, seems to be the first ever non-advert animated movie made in the land, chronicles protagonist, Gadi’s curious adventures in a nascent Tel Aviv.

Navon’s primary line of work was illustrating political caricatures. This film, it would seem, was made as a comic relief of sorts; in the same manner that Navon would later approach Uri Muri – the children’s comic strip column he launched in 1936. Uri Muri starts off as a new immigrant and later, evolves into a ‘Sabra’ [the common term used to describe native Israelis.] However, contrary to Uri, Gadi is the epitome of rootedness and the connection with that biblical pre-exile Jew. He represents Eastern European Zionism’s romanticised view of the Orient that was also every bit as dominant in the literature and art coming out of Bezalel [academy] at the time. The protagonist’s name, Gadi Ben Sossi, is a nod to one of the spies Moses had sent to ancient Israel to survey the land.

However, a rather ironic gap exists between Gadi and Tel Aviv; one between heroism and reality, the bible and the oh-so banal present, and the reverence of the biblical figure vs. the outright dismissal of the tradition represented by the ‘Yemeni.’ There is a gap in the narrative, and a discernible gap in the European’s view of tradition vs. modernity.

Uri Muri, the first boy to have been dubbed a Sabra, and the star of Navon’s comic strip which he cocreated with celebrated children’s author, Leah Goldberg, is a mischievous young boy who goes off on many adventures that blend together reality and fantasy. Uri’s naiveté is viewed as endearing on account of his young age and extraordinary ability to transform dreams intro reality. Whereas in Gadi Ben Sossi’s case, watching the film from a contemporary point of view does make one rather uncomfortable over the thoroughly patronising (if not mocking) representation of the character in what is an awkward combination of a romanticised view of the past, along with all the stock stereotypes of the “primitive” man and the dreamworld… we’ll let you watch and be the judge.

Courtesy of Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive.

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