A movie that breaks barriers between Jews and Muslims

In Arranged, a feel-good feature film now available on the Netflix streaming service, the barriers that normally prevent social interactions between Jews and Muslims crumble.

It would be nice if this amity and fellowship could be conveniently transferred to the Middle East. But since this scenario is unlikely to transpire any time soon, you can watch it unfold rather plausibly in Arranged, which is ably directed by Stefan Schaefer and Diane Crespo.

Rochel Meshenberg (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Nasira Khaldi (Francis Benhamou), both grade four special education teachers in a Brooklyn school, couldn’t be more different. Rochel, known as Rachel to her non-Jewish pupils, is an Orthodox Jew of East European descent. Nasira is a devout Arab Muslim of Syrian origin who wears a hijab.

Both women are in their twenties and unmarried. Intelligent, dedicated and hard-working, they meet on the first day of school and hit it off despite their religious differences. Their friendship may be unorthodox, but it’s rock solid.

Their principal, a Miss Jacoby, doesn’t understand why Rochel and Nasira cling to their respective traditions. Miss Jacoby’s attitude could easily be dismissed as clueless and politically incorrect.

Yet Miss Jacoby is not the only blinkered character in the film. Rochel’s mother, a traditional Orthodox woman who expects her daughter to consort only with Jews of the same persuasion, is shocked when Rochel brings Nasira to their home. In an unsettling display of intolerance, she practically orders Nasira to leave. Rochel, who’s far more enlightened and open to the world, is embarrassed by her mother’s crude behavior.

As might be expected from the movie’s title, Arranged is mostly about the rites of courtship in the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Rochel’s parents arrange for a matchmaker to find her a suitable husband. “You are beautiful and smart and will make some man very happy,” the shadchan exclaims.

Nasira’s father, who was an Islamic scholar in Syria, is just as eager to reel in a husband for his daughter.

Not surprisingly, neither Rochel nor Nasira are satisfied with the calibre of the men they initially meet. It seems as if Mr. Right may never come along.

Utterly disillusioned with the matchmaking process, Rochel says in exasperation, “It’s not working. I’m taking a break.”

Fortune, however, shines on Nasira as her parents introduce her to a fine, upstanding young man with great prospects. As the glowing smile on her face indicates, she likes him. They may well have a future together.

Meanwhile, Nasira resorts to drastic measures to help Rochel land the man of her dreams. He turns out to be her brother’s study mate, a nice modern Orthodox Jewish boy. They see each other in a library and romantic sparks sly.

Arranged may be a bit predictable, but it’s fun to watch and the principal actors are quite appealing. Above all, it holds out the hope that Jews and Muslims can be friends, at least in America.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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