JCC audience argues over ‘My so-called Enemy’

JCC audience argues over ‘My so-called Enemy’

A scene from the film

In 2002, 22 Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls were brought to Bridgeton for a 10-day women’s leadership program. “My So-Called Enemy” is an award-winning documentary that chronicles the program and follows the lives of six of the girls over the next seven years.

“Enemy,” which won a Spring 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Award, its fifth prize since its release, was shown Sunday, July 10, at the Kaplen Jewish Community Center on the Palisades, followed by a discussion.

There are quite a few programs like the “Building Bridges for Peace” one shown in the movie, said Jonathan Golden, an anthropology professor and associate director of Drew University’s Center on Religion, Culture, and Conflict. During the JCC discussion, Golden said these programs are “necessary but not sufficient.”

The sponsors are usually Jewish, and Golden feels more participation by Christians and Muslims is needed. The purpose is to train leaders who then go back to their communities.

Nearly all of the JCC audience was older and Jewish, and some openly scoffed at the Arab girls in the film.

The Palestinians “will never change,” said one woman after the showing. “From the time they are born, they are taught to hate.”

Golden, the brother of JCC staffer Rabbi Steven Golden, disagreed.

“In 10 years you might actually see an impact” from these programs, he said.

“If we left it to the kids, maybe we’d have a better world,” the woman replied.

“Then why are you so pessimistic?” Golden asked.

About 80 percent of the participants in these programs are women, he said. “Men on both sides … tend to be harder” and not as open to programs like this. Also, Golden added, the women of the Middle East, particularly Arabs, need more empowerment, also a goal of these programs.

Asked how program participants are chosen, Golden said that because the opportunities are so rare, the groups are very selective. As “My So-Called Enemy” shows, he said, most of the participants come from progressive families.

A man in the audience noted that none of the girls in the film were from Jewish settlements or Palestinian refugee camps.

Nearly all the 2002 discussions at the private home in Bridgeton were in English, as were all of the interviews with the girls and most of the interviews with their parents.

Children in the Middle East tend to grow up faster, so “I’m not shocked when the kids are so articulate,” Golden said.

He estimates there are 700 similar programs inside Israel, and the number is increasing. He calls this kind of programming “a very important initiative” that isn’t getting enough attention.

The film’s website is http://mysocalledenemy.com.

A sample reel for the film can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kKOLI4t2XE&feature=player_embedded.

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