New film Shekinah provides unprecedented access to the world of young Hasidic women

October 11th, 2013

Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women is a feature documentary that took three years to make and takes viewers into the rarefied world of young Hasidic women living what some consider an 18th-century way of life in 21st century Quebec.
While the formal premiere has yet to be scheduled, a series of special screenings open to the public are being rolled out. Producer Irene Angelico notes that showings are scheduled for October 24 and 27 at the Théâtre Outremont, (1248, av. Bernard West) in Montreal and another on October 24 in Crown Heights, New York. The film will be shown soon in French on Radio-Canada and then by the CBC Documentary  Channel, followed by a theatrical release in major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Paris, as well as smaller cities in Quebec. “We don’t yet have the dates for Radio Canada and CBC, but   we've asked them to give us a window for festivals and theatrical screenings before broadcast,” says Angelico.
The women featured in the film are Chabad Lubavitch, a sect of Orthodox Hasidim, one of the more conservative branches of Judaism today. Much of the 70 minute film, which the Jewish Tribune screened, takes place in Ste. Agathe, Quebec and the Orthodox all-girls seminary founded by Chana Calabash, whose husband serves as the rabbi in the Quebec Laurentian mountains.
With unprecedented access, Shekinah explores the perspectives of these young women from school age through courtship and marriage. Their relationships with men are based on the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism. They see God as both masculine and feminine, and marriage as pre-ordained in heaven. The laws of Torah affect almost everything they do, and still their lives are filled with great passion. They explain why "kosher" sex, with all its complex divine commandments, is as intense and blissful as Eastern Tantric practices, and why they see themselves as more liberated than most women today. Their revelations break many long-standing stereotypes and unveil the secrets of this mysterious women's world.
Shekinah, which means the presence of god, also explores the evolving relationships of these young women with the Jewish and French-Quebecois communities around them.  One of the most interesting parts of the film is an exchange between French Canadian public school students and the girls in the seminary, particularly some of the provocative questions asked.
“In filming Shekinah, I was granted rare access to a community that is unknown, closed, and misunderstood,” says director  Abbey Jack Neidik. “What I found was the opposite of what I expected. Behind the rigid, drab exterior that the Hasidic people present to the world, there exists a vibrant passionate sensuality that seems more liberating and fulfilling than that of the secular world I come from. Is Hasidism really what it appears to be? Are all the restrictions so repressive, or do they have another purpose?”
The upcoming special screenings in Montreal will include audiences of students from local public and private schools as part of a general community outreach effort. Panel discussions will be on tap as well. 
In conjunction with the screening of the film, the producers will also be making available a Study Guide for teachers to help them better frame the dialogue and engage their students (recommended for those aged 14 and up) in a meaningful discussion about a topic that is not often easy to broach. General admission is $15, with a student rate of $10. Educators can attend free.  Schools can call Brigitte Locicero at 514-691-5350 for bookings.
For more details log on to  www.dliproductions.ca. You can watch the trailer at http://vimeo.com/65188601.
 

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