Jewish films address universal themes

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Robert Friedman

The very human side of the propaganda-filled, seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict is portrayed movingly in the Israeli film, For My Father, the first of four films in this year’s Jewish Film Series.

The series has presented entertaining and thought-provoking films for 20 years. While films may have Jewish themes, they are “for the whole community to enjoy,” said Tom Laufer of the Columbia Jewish Congregation, which is presenting the series.

Each screening will be followed by refreshments and a discussion.

The first film in the series looks into the hearts and minds of a would-be Arab suicide bomber, a young Jewish girl in self-exile from her Orthodox Jewish community, and several other Israelis and Palestinians caught up in the ongoing tragedy. It will be screened Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Meeting House, also known as the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, in Columbia.

Tarek is a young Palestinian whose budding fame in his community as a soccer star owes much to his father’s compromises with Israeli authorities to get his son passage to play games in Nazareth.

His father is seen by Arab militants as some kind of turncoat. To clear his father’s name, Tarek joins a group of Palestinian terrorists and is maneuvered into setting out to blow up himself and as many Jews as possible in a Tel Aviv market.

A terrorist incognito

In a rather too convenient plot twist, the trigger mechanism for the explosives around his body malfunctions, and he finds himself stuck in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv. He goes to an electric repair shop for a new switch and meets the old, cranky, soft-hearted Jew, Katz, who has lost a son in the Israeli Army.

Thinking Tarek is a Jewish construction worker, he offers him a job repairing the shop’s roof. Tarek agrees to do the work in exchange for the new switch, which won’t be delivered for a couple of days.

Thus the melodrama unfolds. Among the neighbors, Tarek meets Keren, a green-eyed beauty who has rebelled against her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and left home to open a small shop across from the electrician’s store.

The film, made in 2008, hits a very contemporary Israeli note as young male Orthodox Jews invade Keren’s shop and try to force her to return home, chastising her for daring to strike out on her own as a female — with a full head of hair, and other sins. Tarek intervenes and this becomes the beginning of a loving friendship, which reaches the brink of serious soul-mate status, until...

The Jews and Arabs portrayed

 in the film are neither saints (except for the mothers, who are the Jewish and Muslim equivalents) nor out-and-out villains. Both religions are not shown in the best light, to say the least, especially when the fanatics of the faith take control.

While there are some holes in the plot — Tarek’s character could be more fully drawn, his motivation at the end is not fully explained — nevertheless, For My Father attempts, mostly successfully, to show that Jews and Palestinians are capable of coexisting and — God forbid! —  loving one another.

The movie will be shown in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

Additional films in the series

The second film in the series is The Infidel, a 2010 British comedy about a fairly well-adjusted, easy-going British Muslim who discovers fairly late in life that he was adopted at birth and is, in fact, Jewish.

Among other potential dire consequences of his discovery is its effect on the impending wedding of his son to the stepdaughter of a radical Muslim cleric. Race, religion and British humor provide the ecumenical laughs. The Infidel will be screened on Feb. 11.

A Hebrew Lesson, a 2006 Israeli documentary, will be shown March 10. The movie is in Hebrew, English, Chinese, Russian, German and Spanish — with English subtitles, fortunately. Portrayed in the award-winning documentary are the lives of several just-arrived immigrants as they immerse themselves in the language, lifestyle and culture of their new Israeli homeland. 

The series winds up on April 21 with the showing of a 1925 silent film from the Soviet Union entitled — perhaps tongue-in-cheek, given the film’s setting of Czarist Russia — Jewish Luck.

Based on stories by Sholem Aleichem, the movie revolves around the daydreams of a Jewish “entrepreneur” who refuses to give up on his schemes, which are about as realistic as his dreams.

All movies will begin at 8 p.m. at the Meeting House, 5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia.

Tickets are $9 for a single film, $17 for two, $24 for three and $30 for all four films. Single tickets will be sold at the door only. Advance tickets for multiple films can be purchased at www.columbiajewish.org/film_series.shtml. See the website or call Tom Laufer at (410) 997-0694 for further information.