Drama explores rift over Israeli conscription

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

The Israeli drama “Brothers” tackles two issues facing modern Israel, the question of whether young Haredi men should be compelled to serve in the Israeli army as other Israelis do and, to a lesser extent, the fading of the kibbutz movement. The film explores these issues through the relationship of two estranged brothers, one a shepherd living on a kibbutz in Israel and the other a Haredi lawyer living in Brooklyn, who has traveled to Israel to defend an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva embroiled in a court case over compelling its students to serve in the Israeli military.

The two brothers have not seen each other since they were boys and, as we learn, there are hard feelings between them that reach back to childhood. Their divergent lives also place them on opposite sides of the issue of Haredi young men and military service. Nonetheless, the Haredi brother, Aharon (Baruch Brener) reaches out to Daniel (Micha Celektar) in an effort to reconnect. However, Aharon only tells his long-estranged brother that he is coming to Israel, not why he is there.  

The brothers meet each other cordially but Aharon is quietly appalled to find out Daniel is not only non-religious but a “kibbutznik,” which Aharon characterizes as “the worst.” Daniel welcomes Aharon to his home and introduces his family, including his teenaged son, who is serving in the military. Daniel, a gentle man who writes poetry and is committed to the ideals of the kibbutz, is quietly offended when Aharon makes excuses not to eat dinner with the family. “We’re not kosher enough for him,” he tells his wife. 

Daniel is further angered when he discovers why Aharon has come to Israel. But despite the rocky start, Aharon, with some help from Daniel’s family, keeps trying to re-connect. 

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The film uses courtroom testimony to present some of the contentious issues surrounding the hot topic of Israeli military conscription and the country’s Haredi community, whose young men and women often receive military service deferments or exemptions. 

This 2008 drama explores these issues — and the larger-picture rift between Israel’s secular and religious Jews — by moving back and forth between the courtroom drama and the brothers’ personal story. Director Igaal Niddam at first takes a balanced approach but then leans towards a certain viewpoint. Daniel’s character is important but much of the story turns on Aharon. We see Aharon’s interactions with the yeshiva he is defending and its founder, a Holocaust survivor and the founder’s son as well as his interactions with the opposing attorney, a young divorced mother.

While its production values are modest the film is effective, even moving, in its storytelling and it offers insight into an important and controversial issue in Israel today.