BERLIN (JTA) – There is a swastika in a high school bathroom. Dima Liebermann, the protagonist of the German short film “Masel Tov Cocktail”, changes the hate symbol with a marker and gives it eyes and wings.
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The gloomy 30-minute comic film begins on a day in the life of a young Jew in Germany who makes fun of several layers of a society that is not yet completely familiar with how to deal with its Jewish population.
Dima, who is quick-witted, macho and muscular and fills out his simple white T-shirt – and who often speaks directly to the viewer and breaks the third wall in passionate pleading for understanding – does not correspond to what his neighbors think of when they think of a Jew.
The film by Arkadij Khaet and Mickey Paatzsch, both 29, premiered at the 42nd Max Ophüls Film Festival in Germany last year and played throughout the country and as far as the USA, South America and Asia, winning prizes along the way. There are now several American Jewish film festivals streamed online, including in Palm Beach, Florida (through April 1), Atlanta (February 17-28), and Miami (April 15-29).
Last year Khaet won the Civis Media Prize, which is considered one of the most important awards in Europe for projects related to issues of integration and cultural diversity.
Khaet drew from his personal experience while writing the film, with Dima working through encounters from the director’s life. He compared it to a “road trip” through a small German town that condensed into one day.
The common theme is how the Germans try to classify Dimas Jewishness from different points of view. There’s the classmate who makes anti-Semitic gestures and comments, the passerby on the street who is quick to say that none of his ancestors were Nazis, and a teacher who Khaet describes as philosemitic who asks him to share his Holocaust story for himself a class – provided he had one to share.
People say … « Wow, I’ve never met a Jew. » Then after a few beers for no reason they start telling me that their grandparents or great-grandparents weren’t Nazis, but actually fought in the resistance or saved Jews
« One of the most common situations is people who say to me, » Wow « I’ve never met a Jew, » said Khaet. « Then, for no reason, after a few beers they start telling me that their grandparents or great-grandparents weren’t Nazis, but actually fought in the resistance or saved Jews. » / p> « Masel Tov Cocktail » confronts such claims and briefly pauses the film’s narrative to show the numbers: For example, 29% of Germans believe that their ancestors tried to help Holocaust victims by, for example, Jews In reality, less than 0.1% did so. (The results come from various sources listed in the credits.)
Khaet believes that the Germans who came after the Holocaust in the third e or even fourth generation feel the need to justify themselves without being asked. The reason, the film argues, is that Germans only experience Jewish culture through World War II and Holocaust films in which Jews are almost exclusively portrayed as victims.
« On the other hand, in the United States, the Jewish culture in film, comedy, and literature is more universal and comprehensive, « said Khaet. « It just doesn’t exist in Germany. »
Like the character of Dima, Khaet and his family were part of Jewish immigration in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During this time, over 200,000 Soviet Jews emigrated to Germany. Khaet, whose family comes from Moldova, grew up mainly in Oberhausen, a town with around 211,000 inhabitants in the West German industrial region of the Ruhr area.
« From a Jewish perspective, it was a little lonely, » he said. « But I was able to find a good structure to network with other Jews and to strengthen and develop my Jewish identity. »
Part of this structure came through organizations such as the ZWST (Central Welfare Office of Jews in Germany) and Netzer Olami, a progressive Jewish youth movement. From 12 to 16 years old, Khaet Netzer attended Olamis Machanot (summer camp) and developed into a guide and organizer of the future Machanot. When he was 18, he went to Israel for a year abroad with Shnat Netzer, a global youth movement in progressive and reformed Judaism.
Khaet said one of the reasons he wanted to make this film was to represent the Russian-speaking Jewish community in Germany. According to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, more than half of the Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet Union found their way into established Jewish communities in Germany and increased their membership by up to 90%.
« It is a community from which nobody knows anything, « he said. « If you ask the Germans where the Jews come from, they think of Israel or America. »
At the beginning of « Masel Tov Cocktail », 16-year-old Dima slaps a classmate in the face for making a Holocaust joke Has. His parents ask him to apologize, but he holds out as long as he can.
« Jewish characters in German media are always clichés, stereotypes, and the story is always about the confrontation between perpetrator and victim » , explained Khaet. « It’s always about topics like Shoah and anti-Semitism. »
He referred to the Jewish police superintendent in the program « Tatort » as a rare example of a non-clichéd Jewish character in the German media.
The « We “Refers to his co-director Paatzsch, who is not a Jew. Akadij and Paatzsch met in 2010 while studying film in Cologne. « Masel Tov Cocktail » is their third joint project.
Paatzsch described Khaet’s vision as an « essay film », a collection of notes he had written over the years about his experiences with Germans and his Jewish identity.The script was already in its third draft when Paatzsch came to the project. He thought it had potential but wondered why Khaet wanted to include him, a non-Jewish German.
« It’s a bit of a runner-up, » said Khaet. « I felt we could just make a better film with four eyes and two directors. »
« We thought the film would polarize and non-Jewish viewers would feel too offended to like the film, » said Paatzsch.
The film was also shown at the 26th Jewish Film Festival Berlin & Brandenburg in September and presented the story to a predominantly Jewish audience for the first time.
« What really pleased me was the approval of the Jewish community « said Khaet. Fans of the film wrote and thanked them for a different way of portraying it.
Khaet believes that this different Jewish perspective in Germany will only continue to grow because of Jews who grew up in Germany and went through the German school system and now become artists and use their art to explore their identity.
« It’s a privilege to be able to afford to be angry, » he said, referring to his ability to meet an « angry Jewish » Character set to write in today’s Germany. « That is a privileged position that has lasted years. »
Khaet sees the diversity in which Jewish characters can be represented in the German media, in addition to the diversification of Jewish groups in the country. He refers to the Ernst-Ludwig-Ehrlich-Studienwerk, Keshet Germany and the Jüdisches Studentenwerk as examples of organizations under the age of 10 that contribute to the support of pluralistic Jewish life in the country.
« Twenty years ago there was only one community life and an organization that represented Jewish life in Germany, like the Central Council of Jews in Germany, « he said. « Today, especially in larger cities, you have several options to network and live your Jewish life differently than just through the role of memory and religiosity. » As an environmental reporter for The Times of Israel, I try to get the facts and to convey the science behind climate change and environmental degradation, explain and criticize the official guidelines for our future, and describe Israeli technologies that can be part of the solution.
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