The many costs of coming out as a homosexual—personal, social, familial, and so on—are weighed in a documentary film soon playing just once locally.
That movie arrives as one of the entries in this month’s inaugural Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival. Released by New Yorker Films, Trembling Before G-D sorts out the complicated life stories and views of a few Orthodox Jews. Some of them are gay; others are starkly opposed to living life as an active homosexual. Many of the interactions in the film are awkward, but candidly so; the camera is all but forgotten when, in one scene toward the doc’s end, a lifelong Jew travels cross-country to reconcile with and then confront a former mentor in the faith. The pain and the care, even the love, that is shown between the men—who do not agree—is poignant to see. One almost feels a voyeur to their exchange, sad and beautiful as it is.
This is not fiction, of course. These are real people’s lives, and the anguish that gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews verbalize to their loved ones—rabbis, family members, and partners—about falling-outs with their kin likely has not changed much since 2001, when this film was originally released. (It showed locally once before, at the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival.)
Here, the Trembling Before G-D trailer:
What the film lacks in technical movie-making wizardry—it’s definitely a lo-fi documentary—it certainly makes up for in its grace, charm, and, yes, chutzpah. The complex situations for LGBT Jews in seeking to merge their sexual orientations and their beliefs (or not) are probably more problematic in 2014 than the situation is for most Protestant and Catholic believers. What’s striking about Trembling is the silence and the secrecy about such desires that pervade most Orthodox Jewish communities, families of generally like-minded individuals. It’s telling that, in the panel talk to follow the film’s showing on May 10, no representative of the Hasidic Jewish community is taking part. That is the plight facing those Orthodox and Hasidic faithful who happen to be gay in this age.
Better than viewing Trembling Before G-D from your couch would be to see it en masse at the Jewish Film Festival. Come for the storytelling; stay for the conversation. Even if you remain a voyeur to the discussion, it will quite likely be worth your time.
Trembling Before G-D. Jewish Film Festival, May 10, noon. Christian Theological Seminary, 1000 W. 42nd St., 317-924-1331. Tickets $10. Panel discussion to follow about gays and religion. indianapolisjewishfilmfestival.com newyorkerfilms.com
Additional resources for Orthodox LGBT people can be found here.