Here’s the latest: a profile of first-time filmmaker Rama Burshtein, of Israel, who is also ultra-Orthodox and also a woman. To hear there aren’t many female haredi filmmakers producing movies for secular audiences shouldn’t come as a surprise. I talked to Burshtein, whose movie “Fill the Void,” shows at the New York Film Festival in October, and also screened in Venice and Toronto and won a slew of Israeli Ophir Awards, for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
TORONTO (JTA) — On a dark Tel Aviv terrace, a young haredi Orthodox man and a younger haredi woman discuss love and heartbreak. There is tension and animosity, hurt feelings and broken promises. Then, in an emotional crescendo, the man steps toward the woman, stopping inches from her face. His breathing is heavy, their noses nearly touching.
This unusual and powerful scene is one of the climaxes of “Fill the Void,” the award-winning movie debut from Israel’s Rama Burshtein. While the film, Israel’s entry into the 2012 Oscars’ foreign language category, tackles death, attraction, love and sex inside a community not known for openly addressing emotion, Burshtein, who is haredi herself, insists she’s not a rabble-rouser or a rule-breaker looking to ruffle feathers inside the cloistered world of the haredim.
“Everyone else is trying to interpret what is going on” in the haredi world, the 45-year-old director told JTA in a recent interview, after “Fill the Void” played to critical acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A Winnipeg-based transgender father named Trevor breastfeeds his son and, for nearly two years, consulted motherhood support group La Leche League Canada for guidance. But his query regarding a leadership position within the organization was swiftly rejected by the LLLC board. Trevor, LLLC argues, does not fit the group’s definition of motherhood. I wrote an article in the Toronto Star introducing the controversy in late August.
Trevor MacDonald, a slim man with short silky, dark brown hair, a radiant smile sandwiched between a wispy moustache and goatee, sits bare-chested in a leafy Toronto garden, his infant son sucking gently on his tiny left breast.
In the photo, shot on a recent visit to the city from his Winnipeg home, Trevor blissfully cradles the boy, contentment visible in his soft features. This is a proud papa breastfeeding his 16-month-old child, just as he has done many times before.
Trevor, a 27-year-old stay-at-home parent, loves fatherhood and, as a transgender man, identifies as a dad. And he loves breastfeeding, owing his confidence and comfort nursing to his La Leche League Canada (LLLC) motherhood support group in Winnipeg.
In early June Trevor wrote a letter to LLLC — an affiliate of the influential international mother-to-mother breastfeeding advocacy group — asking what it would take to become a group leader. He wanted to coach LGBTQ members and those who struggle, like he did, to breastfeed after chest reduction surgery.
LLLC rejected his inquiry seven weeks later, citing an 18-year-old policy: “Since an LLLC leader is a mother who breastfed a baby, a man cannot become an LLLC leader,” the organization wrote in its reply, which is posted on Trevor’s blog, Milk Junkies.
Naturally, debate ensued. In the days since, LLLC has hinted it will reconsider its policies.
A shrinking Jewish community in tiny, nominally Islamic Kyrgyzstan deals with growing anti-Semitism and nationwide political turmoil. I spent most of April traveling around Kyrgyzstan and wrote about the country’s Jews last week in a “Letter from Bishkek” for the Jewish Daily Forward.
I’ve been doing more traveling than reporting lately, but back in late March, before I left Russia, I interviewed Elena Vartanova, dean of Moscow State University’s Faculty of Journalism. The interview, posted at Nieman Journalism Lab, covers the school’s changing curriculum and Russia’s new media future. If journo talk gets you going, check it out!
On March 19 I hit Yiddish Fest 2011, a wild Purim party, and Russia’s largest klezmer festival, in the center of Moscow. Dan Kahn, DJ Socalled (an Ottawa boy) and Frank London of the Klezmatics performed alongside over 20 musicians from across Eastern Europe and Russia. As I wrote on The Forward’s Arty Semite blog, it could only be described as “part bar mitzvah, part raw punk, part Breslov dance party.”
I had a rushed, but totally exciting opportunity to interview Daniel Libeskind, the architect behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Crystal addition to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, about his new Holocaust monument at Halifax’s Pier 21. The short piece appeared on The Forward’s Arty Semite blog.