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Political head-butting and crabby bon mots energize a series of wide-ranging conversations about the nature of secular Judaism in the consistently entertaining documentary My Coffee With Jewish Friends. Director and onscreen interviewer Manfred Kirchheimer’s mildly heated discussions with conservative friends like Long Island–based dentist Stuart Daitch and Israeli American computer specialist Yossi Boms are especially compelling when Kirchheimer slyly undercuts both Boms’s and Daitch’s explicit Islamophobia.
Daitch’s hateful remarks about Hamas and “the Arab mind” seem even more clueless after Kirchheimer prompts Daitch to talk about the sanctity of technology-free Friday night Shabbat dinners and the illegitimacy of the Women of the Wall’s requests to pray aloud at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall.
And Boms’s venomous dismissal of Palestinians’ claims to the embattled Gaza Strip territories — he says that everybody should be paid to leave, and ominously concludes that “there are other ways” if money doesn’t work — sounds even more toothless after Kirchheimer prefaces their talk by asking Boms why he’s uninterested in moving back to Jerusalem.
Kirchheimer’s low-key interviewing skills spice up even relatively calm disputes about personal faith. Married couple and Holocaust survivors Walter and Hannah Hess exchange choice words when she calls Hasidic Jews “fanatics” — “no bashing,” he whines — soon after she matter-of-factly says, “I don’t believe in God.” Walter’s hilariously petulant response — “You just haven’t read the right books” — wouldn’t be so entertaining if Kirchheimer didn’t wisely give Hannah the last word: “I was Jewish as far as Hitler was concerned.”
My Coffee With Jewish Friends
Directed by Manfred Kirchheimer
Streetwise Films/Grasshopper Film release
Opens January 12, Lincoln Plaza Cinema