Monday, January 25, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Last night, at the New York Jewish Film Festival, I watched a movie called Eyes Wide Open, a movie about Aaron, an ultra-Orthodox butcher in Jerusalem and a dedicated husband and father, who hires Ezri, a handsome student, as his apprentice. When his time with Ezri comes at the expense of his family life, Aaron faces threats from neighbors and town elders. Haim Tabakman’s sensitive feature debut explores the devastating consequences of forbidden passion.
It is now the second film about gay life in the Orthodox/Haredi world that I have seen in the last two weeks.

That either says that there seems to be an awful lot of interest in gays in the orthodox world, or that there is a lot more of it than people would imagine. I have lots of ideas about this, but I won't bore you with my thoughts. It is funny to me that with the groundbreaking work by Rabbi Steve Greenberg in the film Trembling Before God and just the repeated media exposure over all sorts of Rabbis and Clergy involved in same sex relations, that people still question. The Cantor at our Conservative Temple is openly gay, and lives with her partner, with whom she had a public ceremony in her shul. A few years back, a member of our Orthodox community hosted a reception for their daughter attended by over three hundred people celebrating the marriage of their daughter to another woman. The Ketubah was on display for all to see.
Yet despite the progress we have made, there are still those who refuse to be tolerant. There was a funny moment last night, at least I thought it was funny, when following the film, the director got up to answer questions. The director, who was Israeli, had long blond hair, and clearly did not appear to be from the Haredi world. A woman got up, and said, "have you ever lived in the Haredi world, or gone to a Yeshiva?" She went on, to say sarcastically, " I can translate it into Hebrew if you don't understand." He replied, not only do I understand, but I also understand your tone... this drew laughter from the audience. He paused and said, " I did not go to Yeshiva, nor did I live in the Haredi world. What happened was, one morning, I got up and decided to make a science fiction film about the Haredi world...... and at that point the woman shouted, "and that is exactly what you did" and stormed out of the theater. He went on to say that he had done pretty extensive research, and interviewed many people, and felt his movie was pretty true to form.

And by the way, I felt the film portrayed a highly sensitive and difficult subject in a very thoughtful, tender and respectful way.

Frankly, I am pretty sure that the incidence of gays in the orthodox world would mirror the statistics that we see everywhere else, but i think that both opportunity and societal pressure limit the ability for people to express themselves.

Look, I understand that as an observant Jew, balancing the Biblical commandments with reality presents a challenge. However, as a therapist, I also know that we often keep our eyes wide shut.

That doesn't really solve anything either.