“I don’t want to be a less-than Jew because I’m gay,” the young man’s voice said.
Less than two minutes into the film, the audience members’ eyes were fixed on the screen.
They were watching “Trembling Before God,” a controversial documentary by Sandi Simcha DuBowski, that the Jewish Student Union (JSU), Gay Union of Trenton State (GUTS) and College Union Board (CUB) presented last Thursday.
The film focuses on the lives of gay and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews around the world.
Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by the Torah, so many Jews in the Orthodox community are forced to hide their true feelings. Dubowski’s mission was to bring light to the issue through a series of interviews with gay and lesbian Jews living in Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Miami, London and San Francisco.
The deeply personal film follows these men and women, many of whom have not even come out to their families, in their struggles to combine their deep connection to God and their faith with their sexuality, something that is not easily done.
Some tell their own stories; or those of others who have left the Orthodox community or committed suicide, two common choices gay Orthodox Jews make.
David, a man in his late 30s, tells how he spent years trying to “overcome” homosexuality – his therapist told him to eat figs and say psalms, flick his wrist with a rubber band or bite his tongue when he thought of another man.
He finally confronts the rabbi to whom he first came out 20 years before, and the rabbi tells him he must either continue the counseling that had failed before or stay celibate the rest of his life.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking story is of Israel, an older man who was forced to go through electroshock therapy to “cure” his homosexuality and, as a result, has not seen his father in over 20 years.
“I’m 58 years old and I want my daddy,” Israel said, breaking down and expressing his longing for the Hasidic community of his youth and the lost love of his father.
The presentation of “Trembling Before God” stands out from the rest of the programs JSU is holding for Jewish
Awareness Month (JAM) because of its highly controversial nature.
“We feel this documentary covers a topic that needs to be addressed within the context of Judaism,” Sharon Kohn, sophomore business administration major, who arranged the event, said. “It is important for the Jewish Student Union because it promotes awareness of the religion through a different perspective.”
Many students were aware of the topic of the film, but were still caught off-guard by the juxtaposition of being both gay and Jewish.
“Seeing the two together was odd,” Lemor Bar-or, freshman sociology major, said. “Never have I gone to temple and seen an openly gay person because they are considered such an outcast. They just aren’t accepted.”
JSU’s goal is to help spread awareness throughout the student population of the more controversial issues in Judaism. The film is a step in helping students see Judaism from an uncommon viewpoint, something JSU hopes to continue doing in the future during Jewish Awareness Month (JAM).
JAM, organized by sophomore pre-med major Melanie Kaufer, runs throughout March. JSU, Asian American Association, Uni?n Latina and the Indian Student Association kicked off the month with a multicultural dinner.
Upcoming events include a visit to Greenwood House, a Jewish retirement home, baking traditional Jewish cookies called hamentashen, a trip to a local synagogue to hear the story of Purim, a holiday celebrated on March 24 and the weekly Shabbat services. The events are free and all are welcome.