Queer and Frum is a documentary short that offers some insight into members of the Orthodox Jewish LGBTQ community.
In watching this documentary, you’re going to hear quite a bit about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing). The organization was forced to shut down in 2019 even as they operated under a different name for four years. Listen, conversion therapy should be illegal. The fact that it is still legal in 21 states is extremely disappointing. I can 100% say as a transgender person that I’ve tried to pray the trans away and it never worked. I have my days where I don’t like being trans but if you’ve seen any films about conversion therapy, you already know that it doesn’t work. You cannot convert a LGBTQ person into being cishet–it is impossible. But anyway, the subject of JONAH could be a documentary in and of itself.
Queer and Frum‘s main subjects are Chaim Levin and Lieb Swartz-Brownstein. Chaim was born into a Chasidic family in Crown Heights. Lieb converted into Orthodoxy and moved to New York. It was after becoming Orthodox that Lieb came out and held a coming out party. There’s a lot of anger at G-d and this is completely understandable. There’s certainly more to say about this but I will spare you the rant. Filmmaker Miki Katoni and editor James Tensuan wisely weave in their interview footage and home videos with scenes from the Chasidic community. There are multiple Jewish LGBTQ orgs and they manage to speak with JQY’s Mordechai Levovitz. Katoni even speaks with Rabbi Avi Shafran. Rabbi Shafran suggests behavioral cognitive therapy rather than conversion therapy. At the end of the day, therapy can only do so much.
Because of its focus, the short film certainly does not offer a full portrait of the Orthodox LGBTQ community. Given the half-hour runtime, this is an impossible. task. One would need to make a feature film or even a documentary series to focus on the Orthodox LGBTQ community. Even at that, the community rejection does drive away LGBTQ Jews from Orthodox Judaism. I knew I had to move at the start of 2016 as a result of coming out to myself as transgender. I still identity as Orthodox but the same cannot be said for others. The other thing is that the short film only sees three LGBTQ Jews on camera. There were other interviewees who do not make the final cut. I know one is an Orthodox Jew and transgender. After filming, one of the film’s subjects also came out as non-binary.
Per the film’s postscript, neither of the two main subjects live in Crown Heights anymore. Nor do they currently identify as Orthodox. There are an estimated 675,000 Orthodox Jews living in the US with an estimated 60,000 identifying as LGBTQ.
It is not lost on me that Queer and Frum‘s East Coast premiere is coming at a time when threats are rising against the LGBTQ and Jewish communities. This does take Chaya Raichik’s irreparable harm on the LGBTQ community–seriously, an Orthodox Jewish woman should not be a terrorist and yet, she is the reason why terrorism is being incited right now. The film’s festival screening also comes at a time when Yeshiva University has been fighting against the existence of an LGBTQ club on its campus. LGBTQ Jews exist and are not going anywhere. I know what it says in the Torah but what happened to teaching compassion and acceptance? Do these concepts no longer exist?
Queer and Frum is an important contribution when it comes to Jewish documentaries but again, painting a fuller portrait requires a feature-length film or two.
DIRECTOR: Miki Katoni
FEATURING: Chaim Levin, Lieb Swartz-Brownstein, Mordechai Levovitz, Rabbi Avi Shafran
Queer and Frum holds its East Coast premiere during 2022 Dances With Films: NYC in the Documentary Shorts program. Grade: 4/5
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