Gay And Haredi In Jerusalem


Haim Tabakman’s appearance belies the somber nature of his impressive first film, “Eyes Wide Open.”

The film, which is playing at the Cinema Village (22 E. 12th St.), is a mesmerizingly slow trip inside the haredi community of Jerusalem, a visually beautiful yet austere recounting of the mid-life crisis of Aharon (Zohar Strauss), inheritor of his late father’s butcher shop; Aharon takes on Ezri (Ran Danker) as his apprentice and falls in love with him. Tabakman, in contrast to his film, has shoulder-length brown hair, three or four days growth of stubble, a puckish grin and an impish manner. With the issue of homosexuality in the Orthodox community in the air (a recent forum at Yeshiva University created a stir), The Jewish Week caught up with Tabakman last week.

Q: What is your religious background?
A: My grandmother was religious to some degree; she used to light Shabbat candles. That’s my last religious memory of my family (laughs). To this day, I don’t mix meat and milk. That’s my personal handshake with God.

Obviously, then, you had to do a lot of research on the film’s milieu.
The screenwriter [Merav Doster] and I did a lot of research; we talked to a lot of people from haredi backgrounds. One of the benefits of doing a film on a subject [you are unfamiliar with] is getting to research a world that you didn’t know before. And I learned to respect the haredim. The belief is in the practicing and respecting the codes. If you can make the leap of faith necessary…

Your previous experience was in short films, student films. How hard was the transition to working with a large crew of professionals and making a feature-length film?

At Tel Aviv University where I went to film school, you had to depend on your own resources, so you were always asking friends to help out on your films. On a feature film people are getting paid. Even on the creative side, you just have to think something and someone is paid to do it. A lot of people are helping. Student films are much harder. As for the bigger crew and more equipment, it’s a fun thing; it’s a big playground.

You were the editor on David Volach’s “My Father, My Lord,” and there are definite affinities between the two films. Are you conscious of Volach as an influence?
I’m really blind to that. As an editor, I don’t see the ‘film’; I see the stories behind each shot. There might be an influence, I don’t know. David is a friend and I hang around with him for a lot of time. Maybe something trickled down to me. Ask again in five or 10 years.

The Israeli gay community has received the film enthusiastically. What has the reaction been among the haredim?
I’m waiting for it to come out on DVD. That’s the only way the haredim get to see things. They don’t own television sets and don’t go to the movies, but many of them download films online and watch them on their computers. I guess no rabbi foresaw the Internet.