Matzoh and Mistletoe: The American Jew’s Identity Crisis

There are about six million Jews in the United States, but to many people with this heritage, their religion means little. To other Jews, it’s how they identify themselves. Some Jews are religious but many more enjoy celebrating Christmas. The topic is fascinating to Kate Feiffer, herself a Jew who grew up not even knowing the meaning of the religion because her parents just never taught her. She’s not unique.

Feiffer made a clever movie that took seven years to create and the topic was secular Jews, the dilemma faced by American Jews who no longer practice their family’s religion but yet still seek out the comforts that the holidays and the rituals provide. The movie was screened in Greenfield’s Garden Cinema tonight and the crowd loved the clever use of graphics, old still photos, archival movie footage, and interviews with famous lapsed jews like Mike Wallace, Alan Dershowitz and other lesser known families of Jewish descent on Martha’s Vineyard.

Prominent in the movie is the filmmaker’s dad, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who refuses to join his daughter when she she goes to his sister’s for the seder during Passover. He said he’d rather go to a full blown orthodox seder, a six hour serious version, instead of what he considers the sham of ceremony that occasional jews undergo. It’s just too casual, like the Christian who attends church only on Easter. So he stays home.

The other film on the bill was a long comedy routine by a funny comedian named Yisrael Campbell. He makes terrific comedy out of his life in Jerusalem. He’s converted from catholicism to Judaism three times. He hopes it sticks this time, and he makes fun of the many idiosyncracies of life in sometimes dangerous Jerusalem. “The expert Palestinian bomber who is missing both legs and one arm? You call that guy an expert?” Campbell intersperses his on-stage footage with interviews in which he shares a unique vision of life in Jerusalem for an American born in Philly who hopes his kids will visit America, live in Israel, and never ride a bus.