Arranging A Friendship

Zoe Lister-Jones and Francis Benhamou in "Arranged."

Sometimes it’s a good thing when someone you don’t know just comes right up to you and starts talking.

This morning, I was visiting a synagogue here in the Bay Area with my students from Abraham’s Vision. I am the Jewish co-educator for the organizations’ Unity Program in the South Bay, which brings together Muslim and Jewish teens together to explore Islam and Judaism, as well as issues of political identity as they pertain to what it means to be Muslim-American and Jewish-American.

A synagogue member noticed that some of my students were wearing the hijab, so he approached us and asked what our group was doing at the synagogue. After we explained to him who we were and that we were on a visit to the synagogue’s sanctuary and to meet with one of the rabbis, he mentioned to us a feature film he had seen on Netflix that he thought we would enjoy seeing.

After class, I found the film, “Arranged,” and watched it. It is the story of a friendship between a young Orthodox Jewish woman and a young Muslim woman in Brooklyn. It is a little gem of an indie, made on a very low budget – but nonetheless excellent, in my opinion. It rings true in terms of how it portrays the two traditions, and about how the two women have much in common culturally despite their being of different religions. Most importantly, it does not denigrate the young women’s choices to follow their traditions – more or less – despite their desires to be part of the larger world. For them, like for my students, religious practices and customs mean something and are not to be easily cast aside.

It’s a pleasure to watch a film about Muslims and Jews that does not paint these two groups in broad black and white brush strokes. This is not a film that traffics in comic book-like stereotypes to either elicit yuks from the audience, or worse yet, provoke xenophobic reactions. Furthermore, “Arranged” is refreshingly devoid of a political agenda (at least overtly so…I suppose you could read one into it if you tried hard enough).

If anything, you should watch the film so as to not miss Gary Shteyngart’s cameo appearance in it. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll just say that you would never want to be set up by a shadchan (matchmaker) with the character he plays.

Somehow, I missed “Arranged” when it first came out a few years ago. I’m using this opportunity to publicly thank the man at the synagogue (I never even got his name) for telling me about it. If any of you out there reading this happen to know who he is, please pass on my message.

Here is the trailer for the film, as well as a featurette about its making.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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One Response to “Arranging A Friendship”

  1. Frume Sarah Says:

    I really enjoyed this film. I especially enjoyed learning about the things we share with our cousins.

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