The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, Anteaters for Israel, Jewish Student Union and Hillel co-sponsored a screening of the controversial documentary ‘Trembling Before G-d’ on May 17 in Humanities Instructional Building 110, allowing students a chance to view the groundbreaking film among a diverse mix of students, including members of Jewish organizations and those nonaffiliated.
An eager curiosity is what incited most students present to come view the film. Meena Saleh, a fourth-year psychology major, said, ‘Being Jewish, this film attracted my attention, and I am also interested in gender issues.’
‘Trembling Before G-d’ channels the personal accounts of a group of gay Orthodox Jews who struggle with the clash of their gay identity and their religious one. Each scene gives the audience a brief glimpse of their lives and reveals the difficulties they must endure on a constant basis, ultimately depicting their attempt to simultaneously identify as both Orthodox Jew and gay as a daily battle with their community.
Each must face the disapproval of their lifestyle by their peers, parents, community and religious leaders, who do not understand or believe that one can still have a strong Jewish faith while living a gay lifestyle.
Every member of the group whom the film highlights reveals that they cannot stop believing their religious faith, even if some acknowledge that they feel that they are going against their religious teachings.
David, who has been going to therapy to try to change his homosexuality, feels he must do so in order to apply himself completely to Judaism, an aspect of his life that he is strongly devoted to.
Mark, whose father is a rabbi, was kicked out of several yeshivas, or Hebrew schools, after coming out to the public. The film chronicles David’s ultimate recognition and embrace of his sexuality while still being able to dedicate himself to his religion, and Mark’s return to his Jewish community after public acknowledgement of his sexuality.
Consequently, ‘Trembling Before G-d’ seamlessly projects the underlying idea that if one accepts themselves, it is possible to be both gay and Jewish, as long as one believes they can be.
The harsh dismissal of Orthodox gays from society can have profound negative effects, as recognized by people like Shlomo Ashkinazy, a psychotherapist shown in the film who has run a confidential support group for 15 years and attempts to ameliorate such trauma. Ashkinazy describes the damage depression can cause by explaining how Jewish society, because of its message that an individual must be a certain way or leave, faces a loss of members over time, either to departure, suicide or ‘loss of the soul’ as in an individual leading a distorted life under the false image that he is straight.
The film also provides insight into the great amount of loneliness those struggling with their dual gay/Jewish identities must endure, giving a voice to those forced to remain silent.
Rejected by their community and abandoned by most of their family and friends, Jewish gays find themselves cherishing their one unvarying relationship: that between themselves and their partners. As a result, ‘Trembling Before G-d’ provides an example of how those who have been outcast join together and construct a gay Jewish community of their own, one that is empathetic and welcoming.
In an effort to expand society’s acceptance of Orthodox gays, those like Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the world’s first openly gay rabbi, are pioneers in the movement. Forging the path toward society’s acknowledgement and understanding, Rabbi Greenberg provides the world with an example of bravery that perhaps will serve as an inspiration to all those living in fear of their community’s reaction to their sexual orientation. The film’s interview with Greenberg reveals the consequences those living in other, more conservative countries might face for being openly gay, such as the loss of parenting rights over their own children.
Directed by revolutionary Sandi Simcha Dubowski, a New York-based filmmaker and writer, ‘Trembling Before G-d’ is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s media award for Best Documentary and the Chicago Film Festival’s Gold Plaque for Best Documentary. Prior to making the film, Dubowski had been involved in research on the anti-abortion movement for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Radical though its aims are, ‘Trembling Before G-d’ is an innovative work that asks its audience to dismantle any previously held stereotypes and perceive the gay community as a group of multidimensional individuals who can be strongly dedicated toward Orthodox Judaism while practicing a lifestyle denounced by it. That choice is theirs to make, and the choice to learn about and empathize with their struggles is ours.