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Title Explores Dilemma of Gay Jews

12 Oct, 2003 By: Brendan Howard

“I am so glad that Trembling Before G-d fell into this moment in history when DVDs are exploding,” said Sandi Simcha DuBowski, director of the documentary. “How would you, just five years ago, tell the story of what happened to the characters, what the reactions are to the film?

“DVD is the perfect medium to tell about the movement after the movie.”

Trembling Before G-d (the letter “o” is omitted because of a Jewish tradition of respecting God's name) explores the lives of a handful of gays and lesbians living in Orthodox Jewish communities in the United States and abroad. They struggle to reconcile their sexual feelings with a traditional religious community that regards male and female homosexuality as a sin.

The title streets Oct. 21 (prebook now) at $39.95 for a double-DVD set and is rental-priced on VHS.

DuBowski has been touring with the film for two-and-a-half years at more than 600 events in more than 60 cities, and the film's reception has become a “movement,” according to DuBowski, with more than 16,000 people on the e-mail information list alone.

It could never have gotten as big as it has if it hadn't appealed to more than Jews, DuBowski said.

“I was at a Catholic high school in the Bronx, and 99 percent of the students are Catholic. The students were just blown away. They would stay afterwards, they wanted to hug me,” he said. “So many people struggle with identity. At some point, there's a lonely place, a place where they didn't fit in. Trembling gets at that place, that place of being the outsider.”

To find those “outsiders” for the film, DuBowski said he met “hundreds of people, but only the tiniest handful would come forward.” David, one of those who chose to show his face in the film instead of being blurred or silhouetted, even pulled out of being in the film a few times, for fear he would be violating the commandment to honor his parents by talking about his homosexual feelings so publicly. Some of the subjects were even still married to the opposite sex and still haven't revealed their sexual feelings to their spouses.

Viewers learn more about how the film was received and what happened to many of the chief subjects in a “sequel” documentary, Trembling on the Road, included on the disc. Also included is an extended interview with Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, and extended interviews with the Orthodox rabbis who agreed to talk about homosexuality for the film.

Some of those rabbis were none too happy with the film.

“They probably didn't realize how far this would go. They thought, ‘Very sweet boy … nice small film.' I didn't think they realized it would become this worldwide movement,” he said. “Some of them protested it. Others of them have said privately that they've never gotten more positive feedback from something they've done.”

Of course, rabbis aren't used to being edited, either. On the DVD, there are extended interviews with the rabbis, where they explain more about their personal thoughts on whether homosexuals can be forgiven because the sexual feelings are too strong and how to balance compassion for human beings with the Jewish law against homosexuality.

“They're used to being the more all-powerful ones,” he said. “What I love about the DVD is it really gives them a chance to explain more. It's really a window into a completely different world view. There are books about rabbis' responsa [answers to Jewish ethical and moral questions]. There's never been anything like a video responsa.”

Other extras include deleted scenes; the director's first short film, Tomboychyk; interviews with counselors from the newly created Trembling Israeli Education Project; and interviews with DuBowski and the film's editor, Susan Korda.

DuBowski spent his summer in plenty of 16-hour days arranging and generating the three hours of content for the two-disc set, and his very hands-on involvement was a new experience for him and the supplier.

“I think New Yorker Video, they don't often work like this. They've never done a double-disc set, they've never worked with a director so intensively,” he said. “It was a learning process for them, too.”

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