New Documentary Opens a Hermetically Closed World

This review was first published in The Times of Israel.

At Rebbe Schneerson’s grave

In photographic and film images, we almost always see Hasidic Jews in urban settings. We see them on the crowded streets of Brooklyn, or walking in the narrow alleyways of their crowded neighborhoods in Jerusalem. However, a new documentary feature film about Hasidic women and girls surprises by being set in bucolic Ste. Agathe, Quebec, a resort town north of Montreal.

Although “Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women” is about women in Hasidic Judaism, it also about the role played by a specific group of teenage girls at a Chabad seminary in this French Canadian town. Not all of Ste. Agathe’s residents are thrilled by the girls’ presence, as can be attested to by a history of anti-Semitic incidents in the picturesque locale. The film chronicles attempts by the Hasidim to counter these acts of hatred with outreach to the local population.

The filmmakers couldn’t be happier about the timing of its premiere this week in Montreal, as well as at the Crown Heights Film Festival in Brooklyn. Although they did not set out to make a political statement with the documentary, they are glad it is out in theaters at a time when there is strong support among the Quebec electorate for a proposed “Charter of Values,” which would ban the wearing and display of religious symbols in the public sphere.

“What we are trying to do with this film is open a door to a world that is closed,” says Montreal-based director Abbey Neidik. “There is a lot of hostility against the Hasidim in Quebec, and this film lets people see how Hasidim see the world.”

“There’s room for all ways. We need to not only tolerate diversity, but also embrace it,” says producer Irene Angelico, who is Neidik’s wife. “Even Jews have a million misconceptions about Hasidim,” she adds.

Filmed over four years, “Shekinah,” gives audiences a significant glimpse into the Hasidic way of life in general.  In particular, it sheds light on how Hasidic women (at least, from Chabad) understand their sexuality and roles in their marriage, family and community.

Click here to read more and watch the trailer.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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