c. 2001 Religion News Service
NEW YORK -- Sandi DuBowski believes he has not just directed a film.
With a passion unusual even by the standards of the independent filmworld, DuBowski hopes his recently released documentary, "TremblingBefore G-d," will help a growing social movement--or at least prompt amuch-needed discussion of a topic long shunned in the Jewish Orthodoxand Hasidic communities.
The topic is homosexuality and the religious and cultural barriersthat gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews face in integrating theirsexuality with their religious traditions to create an affirmingspirituality.
"Trembling" was a hit at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival thispast summer, has been praised by publications ranging from The New YorkTimes to Jewish Week, and continues a successful New York run that beganin October and broke opening-day records at New York's Film Forumcinema. The film will have premieres through February in Boston, LosAngeles, Miami and San Francisco.
But it is not merely promoting the film--something all independentfilmmakers have to do--that has engaged DuBowski, 31, a Brooklyn-bredHarvard graduate.
Multifaith panels with Roman Catholics and evangelical Christianshave accompanied some screenings; with the director present, the filmhas been shown at New York Jewish community centers, Orthodox synagoguesand in private home screenings within the New York Hasidic community. In2002, DuBowski and Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodoxrabbi and one of those interviewed in the film, plan to take "Trembling"on tour to conservative Christian seminaries in the American South.
"Unforeseen promise" is how the young filmmaker describes some ofthe spontaneous reactions and connections made from the film -- just ashe admits that the reviews, screenings and interviews of the lastseveral months have amounted to something of a "wild sprawl."
While DuBowski would soon leave for the film's London and Jerusalempremieres, he clearly relished the chance to talk about what hedescribes as his "baby" and what he calls the film's two aims: to be amoral witness to lives that have not had much of a public voice and tobe something of a catalyst for social change.
Even before the film's release there had been a few signs of suchchange: An openly gay student recently ran for president of the studentgovernment at New York's Yeshiva University. And a group of Orthodoxlesbians calling themselves the "Orthodykes" have marched in the annualNew York City Gay Pride Parade.
DuBowski said he wants the film to continue those initial steps ofraising consciousness. "I want to alleviate pain," he said, adding hethinks one reason for the film's success is that it sheds light on aworld that is little-known--even among those in the larger Orthodoxcommunity--and in need of healing from much suffering and anguish.
Make that worlds of suffering and anguish: The experiences portrayedin "Trembling" all have at least one thing in common--the struggle ofpersonal identity in the wake of religious prohibition againsthomosexuality and the conservative social rules of Orthodox and Hasidiccommunities. Yet each of the stories is distinct and personal.
David, an Orthodox gay man, consciously tried to change hishomosexuality, even placing a rubber band around his wrist and snappingit any time he saw an attractive man. David merely ended up with a sorewrist--and eventually accepted he was gay. He is at the center of oneof the film's most painful scenes, returning to meet a rabbi to whom hehad come out 20 years earlier.
"Malka" and "Leah," a lesbian couple who met when they were in highschool in Brooklyn, and Israel, an older gay man in a long-termrelationship, are seen having strained and uneasy conversations over thetelephone with their parents; Israel has not seen his father for morethan 20 years. Others in the film have married to please their families;Mark, the son of an Orthodox rabbi, was forced out of yeshivas inEngland and Israel for being gay.
Gay and lesbian people, DuBowski said, all feel the clash of theirinternal feelings and the demands of external pressures. But what makesthe situation even more dire for Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who discovertheir homosexuality is that they do so amid a strong communal ethic ofmarriage and cultural identity.