David: Friendship with barriers

Muatasem Mishal (L) as Daud and Moz Jobrani as his father in David

By Jack Forman
San Diego Jewish World
Joel Fendelman is a young independent film producer and director whose feature-length documentary film Needle Through Brick — about the development of Kung Fu —  recently won the Silver Palm award at the Mexico International Film Festival.

In making David, his first feature film, Fendelman has drawn on his experiences growing up in Miami and has immersed himself in the culture of Orthodox Jews and religious Muslims who live in the adjacent Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge and Boro Park; it is here that 11-year old Daud (David) lives with his older and younger sister, loving mother, and devout father who is an imam in the local mosque.

Daud’s life almost totally revolves around his religious study, prayer, and extensive responsibilities teaching younger children in the mosque.

One day, in the park separating his neighborhood from the homes of Orthodox Jews, he looks longingly and curiously at a group of four Orthodox Jewish kids his age talking to one another, reading and studying the Talmud and playing before they depart for their yeshiva.

When they leave, he notices that one of the boys has inadvertently left his siddur (prayer book) on the bench the boys were sitting on.

He decides to return it but is unable to catch up to the boys, so he leaves what he thinks is the siddur in the mailbox of the yeshiva. He soon realizes he has instead left a copy of the Koran that his uncle entrusted him with.

The next day he enters the yeshiva to return the book he found and to try to retrieve his Koran copy but the principal mistakes him for a student at the yeshiva; when Daud is asked what his name is, he responds with “David” and is put into the same class attended by the boys he saw in the park.

After the class, the Jewish kids befriend him, thinking he is a Jew. This is Daud’s first experience with peer camaraderie, believe it or not, and he does not want it to end. So he pretends to be Jewish and soon develops a close friendship with Yoav, the boy whose siddur he has.

The film is also focused on portraying vividly the life of Daud’s family, who experience conflicts and crises resulting from the pressures to acculturate into American society.

His strict father is seen gradually losing his control over Daud’s life and that of his older sister who has just won a scholarship to Stanford University.

While this is happening, Daud’s mother is clearly torn between supporting her husband’s decisions and her own more expansive views about what is good for her children.

Even Daud’s father is seen having second thoughts about how he treats his son and daughter. The themes of acculturation and assimilation as they affect family dynamics will certainly resonate with many Jewish viewers of the movie.

Daud feels guilty and conflicted about pretending to be Jewish, but he so much wants to be like other kids that he can’t help himself.

When the truth finally emerges, Daud is left to sort things out, but his brief friendship with Yoav has left its ambiguous mark on him and on his Jewish pals as well.

Muatasem Mishal as Daud and Moz Jobrani as his father shine in the film’s leading roles. Fendelman used Muslim and Jewish actors and actresses from Bay Ridge’s Arab and Muslim community and Boro Park’s Orthodox Jewish community to play many of the supporting acting roles, and they have given the film a credibility that otherwise might have been lacking.

David highlights the many similarities between the two religious communities at the same time that the film portrays the undercurrents of tension and separation which permeate the two cultures.


David will be screened as part of the Dayton Jewish International Film Festival on Tuesday, May 1 at 10 a.m. at The Neon, 130 E. 5th St., Dayton, followed by a discussion with Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz, partnering with Hadassah. It will also be screened on Wednesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Little Art Theatre, 247 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs. Tickets are available for purchase in advance by calling Karen Steiger at 853-0372, online at www.jewishdayton.org, or at the door.

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