Review of “Hineini: Coming Out in Jewish High School” and “Trembling Before G-d”

Trembling Before G-dIn contrast, Trembling Before G-d, directed by Sandy Simcha DuBowski in 2001, arouses a sense of claustrophobia. DuBowski forces us to experience the constrictions of the struggling orthodox GLBT Jews who are the subject of his film.

The level of secrecy around their queer identity varies among the different people depicted in the film. These include a married Orthodox woman in Jerusalem who is so closeted that we know her only through her masked profile (she is filmed in the dark) and her distorted voice.

A lesbian Orthodox couple “Malkah” and “Leah”, who were high school sweethearts in Brooklyn, allow the camera to film their bodies but not their faces. It is a painful experience for the viewer to watch this disembodied pair cooking and praying, knowing that they are terrified of being fully seen.

Yet some are willing to be completely visible. Live-wire Mark from London is torn between ecstatic dancing in Yeshivas (a seminary for unmarried Orthodox Jewish men) and dressing up as a queen at Jerusalem Pride. Charismatic Israel flails passionately with his hands, as he speaks of going through electro-shock therapy as a young boy and hunger for reconciliation with his homophobic father.

All of them bare their souls, revealing what being gay and religious has cost them. Some, like Israel, vehemently believe it is impossible to be Orthodox and queer. Others, like the first openly gay orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenburg, believe the two lifestyles can be reconciled.

While the question of reconciliation is not answered in Trembling Before G-d, it is an important and groundbreaking film. The movie gives rise to intense empathy for these Jews who resist giving up their faith.

Trembling Before G-d has won numerous awards. In 2001 it was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, was awarded the Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film at the Berlin Film Festival, the Outfest Grand Jury Award, and the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Outstanding Documentary Feature. In 2002 the film won the Glitter Award for Best Documentary (voted for by the U.S. Gay Press), and in 2003 it took the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary.

Perhaps the largest testament to the power of the film is in the DVD special feature Trembling On the Road which documents the aftermath of the film across the world. In it we learn that Trembling Before G-d has started a historically unprecedented worldwide movement. The film has become a tool in sparking dialogue and educating Orthodox Jews and other faiths across the world.

Being an Orthodox Jew and a LGBT person can bring a deep level of shame that is compounded by religious and societal homophobia. This has been a subject that historically has been shut away and silenced. Yet by speaking out, the individuals in the two movies have created hope for those suffering in silence.

Both movies point out there is hope in unifying being highly religious and gay, even if it is extremely difficult and laden with sacrifices. Some Orthodox LGBT Jews have created their own support groups, while others try to penetrate the current Orthodoxy. A movement has now begun for those who need to be religious and gay without the loss of an entire community.

Read more about Hineini: Coming Out in Jewish
High School

Read more about Trembling Before G-d here.

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