April 12, 2024
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Not Your Mom’s Movie Night: Rinat Tackles Important, Sensitive Issues

Teaneck—More than 300 people packed into Congregation Rinat Yisrael recently for a program called Ancient Traditions, Modern Challenges. The audience viewed two Israeli movies about Jewish self-identity followed by discussions moderated by Rabbi Yossi Adler of Rinat, who is also the TABC rosh yeshiva, and by psychotherapist Yocheved Schacter, a member of the congregation.

The Rabbi’s Daughter, is a 2012 documentary made by the 20-something daughter of an Orthodox Israeli rabbi. It features three additional women of her generation who are also daughters of Orthodox rabbis. What all four women have in common is their decision to leave home unmarried to conduct very non-Orthodox lives. There are interviews with the daughters in their chosen environments and of the dialogues each has with her father. In each case, the daughter does not question her parents’ life-choice decisions, and hopes her father can accept the choices she has made for herself. Their fathers’ degrees of acceptance vary.

The second Israeli movie is Veahavta: And Thou Shalt Love, a 2011 drama about an 18-year-old Hesder yeshiva bocher, Ohad, who is struggling with his gay romantic attraction to his chavrusa. On the advice of a hotline adviser, he tries to gain strength by immersing himself in Torah study and prayer. The adviser assures him that his efforts are building his strength to control his unwanted desires and that, by following this path, he will soon overcome them. In an effort to have a normal life, Ohad tells his rosh yeshiva he is ready for a shidduch, which he hopes the rabbi will facilitate. But when his study partner returns from military duty, Ohad finds his desires to be more than he can bear, and comes out to his partner, who is shocked. Ohad resolves his ambiguity by ending contact with his hotline adviser. The next morning he is conflicted about joining the minyan, but does so joyfully, not sure what consequences await him.

The moderators spoke briefly after each movie. The discussion centered around relationships with grown children. An audience member said that there is too much pressure from too many public expectations within the Orthodox community. Rabbi Adler concurred and added that these were heightened for a rabbi’s or other leader’s children. Mrs. Schacter advised that we should not view these movies as being primarily about religion, but about our relationships and the mesorah—the values—any of us transmit to our children and how they accept them.

It was agreed that the purpose of the first movie’s director was to put the fathers in the public eye, as the young women had been all their lives by dint of being rabbis’ daughters. Mrs. Schacter pointed out that it seemed that the daughters had not had such open discussions with their fathers in the past.

The lesson, she said, is that we should talk to our children and listen to what they have to say, all the while assuring them of our love, validation, and support. The parent-child relationship should not be a power struggle, but an expression of empathy. The parents should feel their children’s pain as they struggle with all the conflicts in life, express their sympathy and stand alongside them. Each party should accept the other, which does not mean they have to agree. Each should realize what influences the other. And they should realize that life is not static, but a continuing process of changes for all, with no guarantees.

Asked whether there should be limits to sympathy and acceptance, Mrs. Schacter replied that parents need to communicate their expectations and priorities, but should always be open to loving communication. Parents should explain why their expectations are important to them. They should admit their own struggles with life decisions. And being a role-model is the best method of teaching values.

Rabbi Adler agreed that parents must state their expectations and allow their children to choose for themselves. He added that in previous generations Jewish sources advocated having a strong hand in discipline. Now, coercion would be counter-productive. After clarifying our expectations, we must stand back and show our children that we trust them. At some point, one must let go. Asked about the pressure of public judgment on children, Mrs. Schacter said that such a loving and supporting attitude should also come from the entire community.

Commenting on Veahavta, Rabbi Adler pointed out that a hotline like the one portrayed in the movie has long been out of favor.  The Modern Orthodox community no longer generally believes that romantic same-sex desires are due to evil thoughts or that they are easy to control, even by trying to be holy.  He quoted Rabbi Lamm as saying that if someone is ill, we should be sympathetic and relate to the person rather than reject or alienate him or her.

He referred to the dilemma faced by the international Jewish community when a gay group wanted to march under its own banner in an Israel Day Parade several years ago.  This required a public policy decision on the part of the parade organizers.  They chose to allow the group to march under the banner JQY.  The public policy decision, he said, depends on whether being gay is regarded as an inborn characteristic or a choice, and whether it is an acknowledged tendency or is put into practice.  What should be the degree of acceptance personally or by the community in terms of membership and honors?  Rabbi Adler advised that they should be accepted like everyone else, and not be distinguished for being gay.  “We do not investigate whether each member of the congregation has observed all of the mitzvoth,” he said.  However, it is appropriate to prohibit particular individuals from being given particular aliyot that would seem hypocritical.

Mrs. Schacter said that we must view not the individual tendency or practice, but see the whole person and understand each individual’s struggles.  Rather than judging, we should help individuals address their struggles.  An audience member stated that God made gays, and if this may unfairly reduce a son or daughter’s social status, they are still human beings created in God’s image.  Another member of the audience pointed out that God said in Bereisheet that “Man should not be alone.”  Another audience member stood up and announced that his adult daughter is a lesbian, and that he fully supports her.  He objected to those who say being gay is a preference and finds it offensive. He said gays are found throughout society and within many families, but members of his community are shamed into not saying publicly that their child is gay. People should realize, he said, that the way gays are treated socially is a civil rights issue—and received strong applause from the audience.

Mrs. Schacter suggested that, while it is now a very sensitive issue, reactions to gays will evolve over time.  We must figure out how to integrate into our Jewish communites if we don’t want to lose them.  Rabbi Adler added that all who want to be part of the community should be welcomed.

By Stephen Tencer

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