Fauda actor says he can relate to children whose parents were killed on October 7

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Fauda actor says he can relate to children whose parents were killed on October 7

Yaakov Zada Daniel says life continues on and right now these children need our help

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

There were so many unspeakable tragedies that happened in the wake of October 7, but Fauda star Yaakov Zada Daniel was especially heartbroken for the child survivors left orphaned on what Israelis now call Black Saturday.

Like them, the 44-year-old Israeli actor lost his parents at a young age. He was largely raised in an orphanage in southern Israel. Aged just three, he was taken with his sisters to SOS Children’s Village in Neradim, which is situated close to the Negev desert. Today he has nothing but love and praise for the place he called home for 15 years of his childhood.

“Because of Neradim, I became who I am today,” he enthuses. When we meet, Yaakov – who plays Eli in the hit Netflix show – has just arrived in the UK for the first time ahead of a fundraising dinner for Jewish Child’s Day.

His former orphanage is just one of 130 projects supported by the charity, which helps Jewish children in need around the world. To say it is a cause close to his heart is an understatement.

Yaakov as a young boy

“When I was two-years-old my mother died and my father couldn’t raise us alone,” he tells me. “Neradim had just been built and so we were among the very first children who came there. Actually, my first memory is of entering the village with my three sisters.

“When I think of it now, I know it as the place that was my home. The children there were my brothers and sisters. They were all my family.”

Yaakov recalls how there were separate apartments within the orphanage, each one housing up to eight children. Some, like him had lost a parent, while others came to Neradim “because of not good reasons”, including drug addiction, domestic violence or social deprivation.

“Neradim saved me and saved a lot of children,” he recalls.

The youngsters were looked after by a “house mother”, who Yaakov says helped provide “all the confidence, emotional and physical support and anything else we needed.”

He recalls their house was the place that other children from across the village would come and hang out at because their “mother” Lilianna was a huge film fan and had built up a large movie collection. “We were like the cinema of the village,” he grins, “and children would come to play video games and cook together with us too.”

Yaakov with his teacher and mentor David

Yaakov also found huge emotional support in his English teacher, David Dattner, a man he describes as his role model and “an angel.” Originally from London, David served as an RAF pilot during the Second World War before becoming a teacher, moving to Israel and devoting the rest of his years to supporting underprivileged children. Before he died in 2012, aged 89, David asked to be buried close to Neradim.

“David is one of the people who shaped my life,” reveals Yaakov, whose own father passed away when he was 13, just before his bar mitzvah.

It was also at Neradim that Yaakov began to develop a taste for acting, which he went on to study in Tel Aviv.

“Every holiday, every bar or bat mitzvah, we put on a show and I found that I loved performing. I loved to be on the stage. This gave me the confidence to believe I could be an actor.”

Yaakov on duty in the IDF

Thoughts of making it were put on hold, however, until Yaakov had first completed his compulsory military service – and as it turns out, the experience would provide him with the authenticity needed to land a starring role in Fauda.

Yaakov served with the Shayetet 13, an elite unit of Israel’s navy, before being transferred to the undercover Duvdevan counter-terrorism unit during the Second Intifada, in 2000.

“I was placed in the West Bank and yeah, it was very intensive service,” he recalls solemnly. Yaakov doesn’t elaborate further, but years later when he saw the audition script for Eli he felt it strongly resonated with him and said: “This is me.”

He adds: “At the end of the audition I mentioned that I was in Duvdevan and they [Fauda co-creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, who had also served in the unit] looked at me and said thank you. The rest is history.”

After debuting in 2016, the action-packed show has become a global phenomenon with millions across the world tuning in for the last four series.

He enthuses: “No one knew it was going to be such a hit. We are up to 900 million views on Netflix, which is amazing, it’s insane. But to think we had become “stars”? No, we couldn’t believe it.”

Yaakov as Eli with Itzik Cohen as Gabay in Fauda

Earlier this year, Idan Amedi, who plays undercover officer Sagi in the show, was seriously injured while fighting as a reservist in Gaza and is now recovering at home. Yaakov and the rest of the cast have kept in close contact with Amedi, who he regards “like my brother”.

He tells me: “We visit him, we talk with him. We understand he is going to be strong and get past this and we are giving him time to be with his family to recover. We were very shocked when we heard he was injured, but we’re very optimistic about this.”

Yaakov is all too aware of the very real danger soldiers are facing in Israel at the moment. He personally knows a few of the more than 600 soldiers who have been killed since October 7, including one from his old unit. “I think every Israeli knows at least someone,” he says.

Even Neradim has felt the ripples. Sigal Itah, 27, who was raised at the orphanage and became a drama teacher at the village, was tragically murdered at the Nova music festival.

Yaakov on his recent trip to London for the Jewish Child’s Day dinner.

For Yaakov and the rest of the Fauda crew, there’s an acknowledgment that the enormity of real-life events cannot be ignored – and writers who had been working on series five “threw away all their scripts” after October 7 to pen new storylines.

“This is such an historical event that has happened in Israel that we cannot close our eyes and pretend it never happened. We cannot overlook this traumatic event. So, I think the new series will include this in some way.”

Until filming resumes, Yaakov is pouring his energy into helping Neradim and children affected by the tragic events.

“The only advice I can give them is that life continues on and right now these children need our help. They are young and didn’t know the world when they found someone killing their parents in front of them. It’s a traumatic situation. Neradim and places like it will feel the waves to come.”

To find out more about Jewish Child’s Day, visit jcd.uk.com.







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