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FEB. 2002





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"Two Jews and A Baptist Will Do Anything for Tickets!"
a sign spotted outside the Castro Theater (for the sold-out Premiere of Trembling at the Closing Night of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival - hundreds turned away)

Last time I wrote, we were about to have a major feature published in the weekend magazine of Yediot Achronot, the most widely read publication in Israel (75% of the country). And we were awaiting our Jerusalem Film Festival Premiere. The Jerusalem screening was not volatile as we feared but surprisingly full of love (and tears). One-third of the audience was Orthodox. Rabbis, teachers, rebbetzins, scholars all came and the intensity in the room was palpable. Many were turned away as the show sold-out. The film was the buzz across the country. The Deputy Mayor of Tzfat, one of the four holy cities, where the Kabbalah was born, called the Festival Director to say that he has seven yeshiva students who wanted to see the film and how could he arrange a screening. A married gay ultra-Orthodox friend of mine (yes, married to a woman) told me that when he was praying on Shabbat afternoon in his shtiebel [synagogue], he heard men arguing and the word "homosexuality" being tossed around. The news of the article spread fast, and this group could not believe that there were such things as haredi [ultra-Orthodox]homosexuals. My friend secretly smiled.

After the screening, we had a lively panel with Rabbi Steve Greenberg and David, and then a cocktail celebration with friends, film colleagues, and supporters outside the Cinematheque which is on a stunning hillside beneath Mt. Zion. It was one of those rare Israeli moments where gay and straight, secular and religious, old and young, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Jew and non-Jew all mixed together in the cradle of history (over kosher food). When a group of men gathered towards Sunset, and faced the walls of the Old City to pray Mincha (the afternoon prayer), it felt like we truly gave thanks for the day. ….

An Orthodox woman approached me in front of the Cinematheque a few days later. She studied me and questioned, "I know your face. Why? Oh yes, you were in the paper." Then she leaned in closer away from her religious friends. "Can you help me cure my gay son?" I took her number. She emailed this letter later,

Dear Simcha,
I hope that you still remember me - we met at the cinemateque in Jerusalem last week, when following a spontaneous impulse I approached you with my son's problem . As I told you, I am at a stage were I conduct, what I call "a crusade to rescue my son" from the homosexuality. I feel that it is my duty and responsibility as a mother to try everything, everybody and everyway to save him. I know that you may not be the right person to turn to, because you might be biased - but somehow I felt G-d's hand in guiding me to that place at that specific time to meet you. Speaking to you, you made such a positive impression on me, of being such a sensitive and understanding person, who honestly does care about the sorrow of the other's. Therefore I trust that you will try to be objective and will try to help me to help my son... There are two issues which I am very much concerned with: 1. Could you recommend to me a person/persons (rabbis, therapists or anybody carismatic) who might be suitable to try to save my son ? 2. I would be very interested to know how other religious parents did cope with this painful matter? I did not have yet, the chance to see your film, but I have already visited your website and I was very impressed by the good critics and the wonderful fitback you have got. I appreciate very much your readiness to help and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

With warm regards,
(name withheld)

An hour before I met with a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) in Jerusalem who has a lesbian daughter. I have known this wonderful family for years. Now having seen the film, she said, "It is time. If any religious parent needs to talk with someone about their gay child, I am ready to be of help." I tried linking the two up, but the first mother was too afraid to call. I just received an email that she finally mustered up the courage, they spoke and and for the first time she felt truly understood.

More good news came at the end of the Festival - we won the Jerusalem Film Festival's Mayor's Prize for the Jewish Experience! And a few days later, we were awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at OUTFEST Los Angeles.

In San Francisco, our Closing Night of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was one of the most memorable highlights of showing Trembling. 1,450 people packed the Castro Theater, one of the most beautiful movie palaces in the world. The firecracker Frisco audience sure lets you know through their cheering and hissing if they agree or disagree with parts of a film. Trembling was punctuated by plenty of cheers- the audience even clapped when Malka got the Gold Medal for fastest Challah braiding recorded by an Orthodox lesbian!

Some of the most memorable moments occurred after the screening when Rabbi Langer, the Lubavich rabbi of San Francisco, reunited with David on stage for what began as a tense dialogue. (Rabbi Langer was the first person David told he was gay and Rabbi Langer directed David towards conversion therapy to change to straight. In the film they meet after 20 years). I give Rabbi Langer tremendous props for having the courage and willingness to face such an audience while trying to tow the line on the Torah’s prohibitions on homosexuality. When he apologized to David for not having stuck with him over these years, David was shocked, and one felt their conversation in the film inched a step further. It was powerful and painful to watch Rabbi Langer struggle to comfort David while not being able to offer the total acceptance that David craved.

The evening ended with Rabbi Langer offering to host "Friday Night Live in the Castro!" – an all-inclusive Shabbat for everyone - when we come back to San Francisco for our theatrical release.
See the San Francisco Jewish Bulletin article "Chabad rabbi, gay man work on healing wounds at filmfest"

Photo of David, Rabbi Langer, Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Michelle (who has lost 130 pounds since the film), and myself (on the Playskool chair) courtesy of Richard Bermack

© 2001 Simcha Leib Productions