Nothing brings an estranged family together like the death of a loved one and the subsequent promise of an inheritance. In Dani Levy’s 2004 comedy, Go for Zucker (Alles auf Zucker), two brothers are forced to overcome their animosity and reconcile both their personal feud and religious differences, which simmered for over 40 years as a result of the creation of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing East-West divide. This German movie, filmed entirely in Berlin, explores the post WWII Jewish-German identity and the consequences of the rise and fall of the GDR on families through the humorous efforts of Jakob and his spouse’s attempts to regain their familial bond and religious identity.
At the time of this film’s release, the Jewish population in Germany has more or less merged into society and an estimated 200,000 Jews reside in the nation. The successful integration of the Jewish minority allows for the deep schisms between Jews and non-Jews to mostly eradicate itself. Go for Zucker brings up how the Zuckermann family coped with their Jewish identity during the post war period, GDR rule and present day. The now-dead matriarch of the family had lived through the Second World War and despite the atrocities committed against the Jewish community, remained in Germany nonetheless. Mother Zuckermann stayed because Germany was her home and even though the Nazis did horrible things, they did not negate the fact that she is German and her German heritage is a defining piece of herself. Her life history recounted by Rabbi Ginsberg is a strong rebuttal against Israeli president Ezer Weizman’s mildly condescending speech about how German Jews could possibly remain in the country after the war. Religious affiliation and the desire to remain in one’s homeland are not mutually exclusive. The film shows that Jewish people are capable of moving on, to raise families in their previously decimated motherland and not allowing events of the past to perpetuate resentments or stereotypes. By the advent of the 21st Century, Germans have seemingly triumph over their grandparent’s anti-Semitism and embraced Jews as an equal part of Germany’s social order.
Although we never actually see the mother, only her coffin, her tale acts a stepping-stone in reconciling her two contradicting sons, who could not be more different from one another and have not spoken in half a century. Jakob and Samuel Zuckermann are prime example of how one’s upbringing and environment can shape an individual. Samuel grew up in Frankfurt with their Orthodox Jewish mother and became the embodiment of everything Jewish with his tall black hat, a hefty beard and his mishpocha entourage, all wearing black. Even his son, Joshua, is on the verge of becoming a rabbi and takes his Jewish identity to an extreme. Jakob, on the other hand, remained in Berlin, renounced his Jewish background and achieved mild success as a sports commentator until the GDR fell apart and ended up drowning himself in debt, consequently losing his family, career and dignity. These differences come further into play when it is announced that the family must collectively sit Shiva for 7 days together, a situation in which Jakob and his wife are completely out of their comfort zone, and mend their relationship in order to reap the financial gains.
Brushing aside the notion that money can solve even the lengthiest of grudges, Go for Zucker juggles the colliding of two starkly different cultures (Orthodox versus Secularism) and showcases how the Ossi-Wessi divide still lingers and effects family dynamics today. Although many families reconciled in the 1990s once the Wall fell, Jakob stubbornly continues to hold bitterness towards his mother and brother for abandoning him when he was 14, despite the dire circumstances that caused them to leave in the first place. While the film takes place in the early 2000s, the historical events of Germany play a large role in causing a rift within the Zuckermann family and the lack there of relationship among in-laws and cousins. It takes a near death experience, multiple interventions and bonding activities in an attempt to fool the rabbi and giving up one’s pride for the two brothers reunite and settle their everlasting long-lasting feud.
Luckily for Jakob, “it is never too late to be Jewish” and since being both German and Jewish is now widely accepted in 21st Century Germany, the film spends much of its screen time entertaining the audience by showing the family’s laughably inept attempts at being normal kosher and convincing the tenacious siblings to communicate.