Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

For the Love of G-D

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

For the Love of G-D

Article excerpt

Sandi DuBowski set out to film the hidden world of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews--and created a real-life shift toward understanding and acceptance

Director Sandi Simcha DuBowski is sitting on the deck of his Greenwich Village apartment--a quiet, green oasis where he has shared Jewish holidays with friends and held the wrap party for his documentary film Trembling Before G-d.

DuBowski's groundbreaking film, which opens at Film Forum in New York City on October 24, has already stirred debate at festivals worldwide with its portrait of the struggles of gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. These people yearn to reconcile love for their faith with their sexuality and must do so under the threat of isolation from their families and ostracism from their community.

Gay Hasidic Jews? It sounds like an oxymoron. "Believe me," says the 31-year-old DuBowski, "everyone just laughed when I told them what I was working on." The young filmmaker had begun to explore issues of family and Jewish identity with his mid-'90s short film Tomboy-chik. But filming the gay lives in Trembling meant breaking taboos.

For every person seen on-screen, DuBowski contacted literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. "I tried for six years to find any Orthodox parent with a gay or lesbian child who would appear in the film. I could not find one," he laments.

But the people who do appear testify to their love of Judaism despite the pain they've suffered. There's Mark, a lover of study who's been kicked out of numerous yeshivas for being gay. There's Michelle, a Brooklyn lesbian who feels so isolated that she says that when it comes to Hasidic lesbians, "I think I am probably the only one."

Michelle could take comfort from Malka and Leah, a couple who delight in the rituals of their faith despite facing a lack of acceptance. And at the heart of the film is David, a handsome 43-year-old doctor who is still recovering from the scars of having to endure years of "conversion therapy." (His meeting with the rabbi who had convinced him to go for that treatment is one of the film's highlights.)

DuBowski has done more than simply make a movie. In the course of his filmmaking, he helped form a support group for Orthodox gays and lesbians in Los Angeles, brokered interfaith dialogues, put people needing help in touch with those who can give it, and even introduced Rabbi Steve Greenberg--the world's first openly gay Orthodox rabbi--to his partner of two years. Throughout, DuBowski has encouraged those in the shadows--illustrated beautifully by the film, in which people who were afraid to appear on-camera enact Jewish rituals in silhouette--to step into the light.

"If it were just a movie, it would be boring," says DuBowski. "This film has tremendous potential. I don't think I anticipated that. At the beginning it was just my own personal video diary about whether there was homosexuality in the Orthodox world. But when I started meeting people who were kicked out of yeshivas, thrown out of their families, even betraying their husband or wife, it became clear that this was much more than a film and that I had a much deeper responsibility to the people I met."

The results have been astounding, since almost every time the film is shown, it marks a first of one sort or another. …

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