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Matzo & Mistletoe: A Film by Kare Feiffer cover photo

Matzo & Mistletoe: A Film by Kare Feiffer 2007


Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Kate Feiffer
Directed by Kate Feiffer
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - Adult
Jewish Studies

Date Entered: 04/10/2008

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

The distributor’s blurb says: “Matzo & Mistletoe is an engaging exploration of personal identity.” This sentence covers this reviewer’s thoughts about the film so succinctly it is hard to improve on it. Most important is that the film is an intensely personal view of its topic—the assimilation of American Jews—based on Ms. Feiffer’s own experiences as well as those of her parents, friends, and several notable public figures, including Alan Dershowitz and Mike Wallace. The film is entertaining and appealing, but lacks the academic rigor or systematic approach that would make it appropriate for scholarly study of the subject.

Startling comments emerge. None surprised this reviewer more than to hear Mike Wallace tell Ms. Feiffer he recites the Sh’ma (the Jewish prayer proclaiming the unity of God and God’s name) every night before he goes to sleep. Equally surprising were admissions from Jewish friends who grew up having Christmas trees and visits from the Easter Bunny that they thought these were not religious rituals. One goes further, claiming she thought they were Jewish. Many continue practicing them even after realizing they are not.

Ms. Feiffer’s parents separately express a strong lack of religious belief, although they also believe they are Jewish. These two seemingly incongruous beliefs beg the question “How assimilated must one be before one is no longer Jewish?” Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, one of Ms. Feiffer’s interviewees, says many American Jews are already past the threshold. It takes more than saying one is Jewish, he insists.

The rabbi tries to bring assimilated Jews back to the fold by relaxing the rigorous formalities of Judaic practice in the synagogue and gearing his Jewish services to popular culture. The strategy is remarkably similar to the way the Catholic Church broadened its appeal after Vatican II by allowing Mass to be chanted in vernacular languages, accompanied by rock and roll hymns. Think of Whoopi Goldberg’s choir in ,em>Sister Act. And, like Sister Act, at a few points, Matzo& Mistletoe is light and funny enough to make viewers laugh.

Technically, the film is uneven. There are far too many clips of Ms. Feiffer as a toddler sprinkled throughout the film, often for no apparent reason. Visuals sometimes have nothing to do with the ideas being discussed. Sometimes the cutting between photographs, brief archival film clips, and live action interviews is herky-jerky. The soundtrack is occasionally too faint or muffled to understand. Yet, every so often, for a few great minutes, the film is so good, so smooth, and so beautifully done, it almost resembles a Hollywood feature with Oscar potential.

Recommended for public library collections and academic library collections specifically supporting the study of American Jewish assimilation.