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David: A friendship across religious and political divides

David is an original story exploring a friendship between the son of a Palestinian Imam and a Jewish boy in Brooklyn. It highlights similarities between the two communities and questions what divides us on a societal level.

Daud and Yaov in the film David about friendship between a Muslim boy and a Jewish boy

David is the sweet and unexpected story of an eleven-year-old Muslim boy in Brooklyn who finds himself mistaken for a Jewish boy when he walks into a local orthodox Jewish school. Finding a copy of the Tanakh at the park he attempts to return it to the Jewish school, but accidently puts a copy of the Quran into the mailbox outside instead. Discovering his mistake, he goes back to try and retrieve the Quran, which is a special copy that had belonged to his grandfather. Once there however, he is told off for being late and finds himself hurried into a class with other boys learning about Judaism. Hoping to get back his copy of the Quran, which he has spotted on a desk in the office, he goes along with the fact that he has been mistaken for a Jewish boy and goes back to attend class again, developing a genuine friendship with his new classmates.

Daud eating dinner with his father the Imam in David

For a film with a Jewish writer and director, the portrayal of dynamics within the Muslim community is authentic and believable, showing respect and understanding of other’s beliefs and traditions. The authenticity evident in the film shows that the core message of friendship across divides, whether religious or political, comes from a context where this friendship is in fact a reality. The film sends the message that personal friendships across divides can and should exist despite political grievances; and in fact it is perhaps through such connections that political divisions are most likely to find a resolution. Despite more recent history, Muslims and Jews have lived and worked together for hundreds of years, in Andalusia, Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, and the Ottoman Empire.

Dinner at Yaov's house in the film David about a friendship between a Jewish boy and a Muslim boy

Director and writer Joel Fendelman says that the story came from having experienced a sense of being different growing up, as one of few Jewish boys in a predominately Hispanic area in Miami. Living in New York city after 9/11, Fendelman recognised his own prejudice towards Muslims and decided to get to know them better. He spent the next year volunteering at the Arab American Association in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, helping to teach English to immigrant women and leading a youth group during the summer. “It was one of the most profound experiences where I learned that my preconceived notions were of course untrue and I was completely embraced as a Jew and an American,” he says. During this time he started to get an idea that would turn into the film David. He took the concept of struggling to fit in while honouring family, faith and tradition, and decided to write a story about an eleven-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy called Daud.

Daud with his sister Aisha in David

The film also shows some of the tension within conservative communities living in America between sticking to traditional ways of life and adapting to the environment in which they live. Daud’s father, Ahmed, is a conservative Imam in New York, and represents the ‘old ways’. His strict approach and resistance to change leads to conflict with his daughter, Aishah, who wants to take up an offer she receives of a place at Stanford in California, while her father thinks she should go to a university that is close to home.
Received well by both Muslim and Jewish audiences, David won the 2011 Ecumenical Prize awarded at the Montreal World Film Festival and the audience award at the Brooklyn Film Festival. The two central child actors, Muatasem Mishal as Daud, and Binyomin Shtaynberger as Yaov, were both cast from within the communities they represent in the film, and had no prior acting experience. They both give excellent performances that are strikingly authentic and natural. The Director of the film comments “It was a truly special experience to watch the actors who played Daud and the Jewish boys interacting when the camera was off: an Arab boy and five Jewish boys playing, joking around, and being friends. It was difficult to shoot the moments of tension between the boys, as it contradicted how they related in real life. In a time of pervasive cynicism and mistrust, these deeply touching moments offered a useful lesson that perhaps we should be spending more time reflecting upon the similarities that we all share, rather than being scared by the differences we perceive.”

Daud in David about a Muslim Jewish frienship
The fact the friendship in the film is between children gives it an innocence that transcends issues of creed or politics, also touching on a more universal reality, where friendship can coexist with respect for each other’s beliefs and traditions and despite political tensions. In the West there is a lot of prejudice towards Arabs and Muslims, and in the Arab world there is a great deal of prejudice towards Jews due to Israeli policies, but this film shows two children getting to know each other on a personal level and moving beyond fear and stereotyping.

Daud and Yaov outside in David about a Jewish Muslim friendship

You may also enjoy Ensemble, the true story of how the Imam of the Great Mosque of Paris helped Jews to escape from the Nazis during WWII.

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