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Film Club

Here are some suggestions you might want to use to enliven your community work or to develop a student film club

If our artists, our bards, are the pathfinders, so too are our newer ones, working in other media. There are two TV series, which I would recommend to you. Both come from Israel, one from a Jewish source and one from an Arabic.

Srugim are the kippot worn by orthodox Jews, decorated to indicate which sub-group one hails from. And that is the title, which Hava Divon has given to her series. As she studied at a special school for orthodox filmmakers, she began to hear stories of the difficulties her (much younger) colleagues were having finding their own path and finding an appropriate partner, and she tells these stories (fictionalized) in her series. We had her up all night when she was here for Limmud, asking for “just one more!”. If you liked “Friends”, you’ll love this. They can be bought online and the English language series is on the net. The struggle to separate oneself from a totalistic orthodox community or find one’s place in a modern form of orthodoxy might apply to some of the struggles young Muslims here might encounter. At least one can gain insight into the constraints and the divergent pulls that act upon the individual.

Arab Labor” has been shown several times in Berlin and is (unfortunately), to my knowledge, not yet available on DVD, but it is a riot. The protagonists are a Jewish and an Arab reporter; both have families, different but equally rich and complex. The Jew is trying to teach the Arab how to survive in Israeli society, and it almost always backfires. The Arabic friends I have discussed it with do not like it at all, but they don’t realize how much fun it pokes at Israeli society. And much of the humor cuts close to the quick (ist hart an der Schmerzgrenze). I’ll just give you two examples:

In one, they are covering the beginning of Passover and the Arabic man who always buys the “chametz” has a heart attack. A Jewish household may not retain any grain products during Passover, but tradition allows one to “sell” it to a non-Jew for a minimal price and “buy” it back after the holiday. This is useful for schools and hospitals, which have difficulty using up all their stores. So the person who agrees to do this is a trusted confederate. Now this man is no longer able to fulfill the role. The Arab reporter suggests that his father, a retired school principal, might do so, and they accept him. Now the father has just discovered eBay! And, not really understanding the complicated nuances of what he has just done, starts selling off the grain! The joke is not necessarily on the Arabs but also on the convoluted tradition of the very “strenggläubige” Jews. But it is painful on both sides.

The other example is the reverse. The Arab reporter and his wife have been having trouble with her second pregnancy. The (Jewish) doctors keep telling her the pregnancy is borderline and they can’t figure out what that is supposed to mean. So one day, while shooting the breeze with the chauffeur of the mafia boss he is going to interview, he mentions it to the (Arabic) chauffeur. “Oh, we had the same problem! Move the bed!” “Move the bed?!” “Ya, our bed was on the Green Line! We moved it, no problem, normal pregnancy.” So they check and their bed was also on the Green Line, so they move it, and that solves the problem.


This show, as painful as it is, is, I think, in its sixth season. It has the potential to become the Bill Cosby Show of the Middle East (written before Cosby’s conviction). Obama’s election would have been unthinkable without the Cosby Show. This show breaks stereotypes and is so funny it’s addictive. But as I said, it is extremely painful for the Arab population. Jews have more of a tradition of humor and laughing at incompatibles.

To date we haven’t been able to find “Avodah Arabi” as DVDs, but they have been shown in Berlin at various film festivals, so keep your eye out for them.

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