Shirel Peleg’s enjoyable and well-crafted romantic comedy, “Kiss Me Kosher,” surveys the wonders and agonies of the oldest and most durable human passion, love, through the prism of German-Jewish relations and Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. It will be presented online by the annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which runs from June 3-13.
A co-Israeli-German production blending laugh-out-loud humor with somber undercurrents, it is set in contemporary Israel. The central characters, Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) and Maria (Luise Wolfram), are lesbian lovers trying to navigate their immense cultural differences.
Shira, an Israeli, runs a hip bar in Jerusalem in conjunction with her business partner. Maria, a German from Stuttgart, is pursuing a PhD in climate change. It’s unclear where they met, but when Maria arrives in Israel for a visit, they already have known each other for three months.
Shira has slept around, but Maria is special as far as she’s concerned. “I have found a woman of my dreams,” she tells her grandmother, Berta (Rivka Michaeli), a Holocaust survivor, prior to Maria’s arrival. Berta seems open to her granddaughter’s liaison with a German. “I don’t care if she’s a lesbian, as long as she doesn’t look like a truck driver,” says Berta gruffly.
When Shira’s inquisitive mother, a former exchange student in Germany, asks Maria how her grandparents spent the war, she initially remains silent.
To Shira, Maria’s family history in Nazi Germany does not make the slightest difference. But Berta, revealing her true feelings, refers to Maria as a “shiksa” and voices her opposition to their budding friendship. In fact, Berta is behaving hypocritically. Her boyfriend, Ibrahim (Salim Day), a refined physician, is an Israeli Arab committed to the Palestinian cause. They converse in a melange of Hebrew and Arabic.
Shira and Maria really care about each other, but Shira’s friends detect tension and predict they’ll break up. Maria is sorry she was hasty in proposing marriage to Shira, but admits she loves Shira. Maria is not even certain whether they “fit,” but Shira is confident they’re compatible.
Armed with a video camera, Liam (Eyal Shikartzi), Shira’s mischievous brother, records the ups and downs of their somewhat tumultuous relationship for a school project. In an amusing scene, he teaches Maria a vital Hebrew phrase he urges her to memorize: “I eat pork on Yom Kippur.”
Maria’s liberal-minded parents, Hans (Bernhard Schutz) and Petra (Juliane Kohler), having heard from their daughter that she intends to live in Israel, fly there to meet Shira’s family. Petra, a peacenik, insists she will not cross the old Green Line into the West Bank. This could be a problem because Shira’s parents, Ron (John Carroll Lynch) and Ora (Orit Kaplan), live in the West Bank, which Ron considers “liberated territory.” Shira doesn’t share his right-wing views, but Ron loves his daughter “exactly how god created her.”
The dinner table conversation takes an uncomfortable turn when Ron suggests that Maria should convert to Judaism if she and Shira decide to adopt a child.
In the meantime, Berta has warmed to Maria, but she is still opposed to their wedding plans.
The spectre of the Holocaust permeates the movie.
As Petra and Ora tour a Holocaust museum, Ora confides that her relatives, hailing from the Polish city of Lodz, were murdered during the war. Petra breaks down in tears, still concealing her family’s pedigree. It’s clearly a difficult moment for both women.
Maria also feels the pull of history, saying she is ashamed of Germany’s wartime crimes.
Despite these objective difficulties, Shira and Petra are determined to ensure that Germany’s Nazi past does not interfere with their romance. As the old saying goes, love conquers all.