Yaakov Zada Daniel, a star of the hit Israeli Netflix series Fauda, honoured the founder of SOS Children’s Villages Hermann Gmeiner according to Jewish tradition by placing a stone on his grave on the outskirts of the village. As a boy, Yaakov shook Gmeiner’s hand when he visited his childhood home - SOS Children’s Village Neradim in Arad, Israel.
Yaakov’s earliest memory is of the day he arrived at the village as a three-year-old with his three sisters in 1983. Their mother had died, and their father could not raise them alone.
“It was a fantastic childhood. I never had another home. I don’t think I would change anything about it,” Yaakov said. Highlights from his childhood include annual trips and hikes to explore Israel and discover its natural beauty.
The seed for Yaakov’s acting career was also planted at SOS Children’s Village Neradim. “We put on a play for every holiday and every bar and bat mitzvah. We did everything – from writing the script and music to designing the costumes. That’s one of the reasons why I became an actor,” he said.
After finishing his compulsory military service, Yaakov went on to study drama in Tel Aviv. While waiting for his big break after graduating, he returned to Arad to give drama lessons to kids.
Once the acting parts started streaming in, Yaakov gained popularity thanks to movies such as Hostages, Metumtemet, and Next to Her. But it was the Netflix series Fauda, a two-sided story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that propelled him to international stardom.
Yaakov Zada Daniel has never forgotten where he comes from. As the face of SOS Children’s Villages Israel, he actively promotes the organisation’s work and supports fundraising. He also returns to his childhood home as often as possible.
“The kids are always very excited to see me. My main role is to motivate them. I tell them my story and encourage them to think positively, make the right choices, and never give up,” he said.
When Yaakov’s girlfriend, Julia Schneider, proposed a holiday in her native Austria, he agreed on the condition that they visit Innsbruck and Imst to discover the roots of SOS Children’s Villages.
“It was important for me to come here and close a circle in my life. This is where it all began. It was good to learn how the village functions and how children are cared for now compared to earlier,” Yaakov said.
The beautiful setting of SOS Children’s Village Imst in the Austrian Alps didn’t go unnoticed during the actor’s visit. “It is like a picture. My village in Israel is also beautiful, but there the children play in the desert while here they play in a forest,” Yaakov said.
* Article and photos by Linda de Beer.