Natalie Portman Reconnects with her Israeli Roots

Jerusalem-born film actress Natalie Portman, 23, who won hearts for her role in last year’s “Garden State” and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Closer,” returned to Israel this winter to star in “Free Zone,” a film directed by Amos Gitai. “I think it’s an amazing time for Israeli cinema,” Portman, who studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem last year, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “It is just starting to flower and I think, you know, I wanted to be part of that.” “Free Zone,” like Gitai’s other movies, explores a controversial subject—in this case, Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Filming locations included the West Bank and Jordan, where, in the wake of the recent cease-fire declaration by Israelis and Palestinians, all remained peaceful. But not so at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. There, the Associated Press reported, an angry crowd of ultra Orthodox worshippers heckled Portman and her hunky co-star Aki Avni (pictured at left with Portman) as the two stood in front of the Wall kissing during the shooting of a scene. The action became so heated that the police intervened.