From eating figs and reciting psalms as his Rabbi suggested, to biting his tongue every time he felt attracted to a man, David tried to change. But after twenty years of trying, David realized that he couldn’t.
“I don’t want to be less Jewish because I’m gay,” said the man on the screen.
He was one of the dozen gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews featured in the 2001 documentary “Trembling Before G-d,” shown Tuesday night as one of Sex Week’s numerous events to portray different aspects of sexuality.
A discussion led by Northwestern Rabbi Josh Feigelson and campus minister Reverend Julie Windsor Mitchell followed the documentary. Hillel, University Christian Ministry, NUCOR, Rainbow Alliance and A&O Films co-sponsored.
In the candid discussion that followed the screening, Feigelson and Mitchell shared their thoughts on the documentary from their perspective as religious leaders.
Mitchell said she was struck by “this choice that so many people felt that they were faced with in the film, of choosing their sexual identity or orientation, or choosing their religion, which is also their identity.”
A girl in the audience, mentioning a passage of the movie, asked Feigelson and Mitchell what their responses would be if a student came up to them and said they were gay.
The approach of the first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg “is very close to the one I would take, which is: You don’t have to choose between the two,” Feigelson said. One of the characters “was a guy who wanted to hear ‘Yeah, I can be an Orthodox, I can observe the Torah and I can be part of the community, and I can be in love with a man.’”
“I would say ‘absolutely,’” Feigelson said.
Mitchell expressed similar views, and underlined the message of love in Christianity.
“I believe orientation is not something you choose, it’s something you’re born with,” she said. “If that’s true, if we are born straight or gay, then that means that God created us that way, and God said it was good.”
“The two most important commandments are love God and love your neighbor,” she added. “It’s very difficult for me to understand how that means ‘love only certain types of people’ or ‘love only in a certain way.’ Love is love, and love is a beautiful thing.”
Many gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews are shunned by their families and communities when they come out. Israel, a gay man from New York, had turned his back on the religious community because it didn’t accept him. But at 58, he still struggled with his estrangement from his father, who refused to see him for decades.
Others, like the woman known in the movie as “Devorah,” get married and have children, repressing their feelings all their lives to keep up appearances.
But when Devorah attended a Gay Pride Parade in Tel-Aviv, she was shocked by the hateful speeches against a religion that she felt so strongly for. She, like Mark, an English gay Jew, felt that “being a Jew is such a nice present to receive.”
For sophomore Stephanie Schreiber, the screening of “Trembling Before G-d” was an interesting glimpse at the dilemma faced by religious homosexuals.
“Being secular, the way I see it is that there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality,” she said. “It’s coming from their texts, and while I disagree with what they’re saying, it’s still interesting to hear their point of view.”
For Sex Week founder Stella Fayman, the night’s event was a way to address sexuality through different lenses.
“The whole point of Sex Week is about having a dialogue about different topics in sexuality that we wouldn’t necessarily think of,” and the intersection between sexuality and religion is definitely not talked about in a collaborative manner, she said.
“I think it’s really important because sexuality is a thing that people really struggle in all sorts of manifestations, whether it be homosexuality, celibacy or the hook-up culture,” Fayman added. Having two religious leaders “show people that we realize these struggles exist and there are ways of coping with that, I think that’s really important.”