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The Movie I Walked Out On

 

For the past few years, the Israel Engagement committee at my synagogue has been showing Israeli films a few times a year, as a way to explore the modern state of Israel from the point of view of its own citizens. This year the theme is movies made by Palestinian Israelis, and told from a Palestinian perspective. You might think this would be a weak draw at a synagogue on Long Island, but more people came to the first movie of the year than come to most Friday night services.

This was my first time going. When the series first started I was busy with graduate school and too exhausted to go back to synagogue for an extra night, to sit in uncomfortable chairs and watch movies I could easily watch online. I finally went this year for a practical reason: I’m on another committee that’s planning to show a movie in a few months, and I wanted to see how the Israel Engagement committee managed the scheduling, snacks and seating, and the actual showing of the movie (and no one else on the committee volunteered to go).

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“We’ll just wait here for you, Mommy.”

Mom came with me for moral support, and we both decided to skip the schmoozing period before the movie. It turned out that even though the movie was listed as starting at seven, it actually didn’t start until after eight o’clock, so many people were still arriving long after Mom and I found seats in the back of the sanctuary (the film was being shown on one of the new screens in the remodeled sanctuary, to justify the expense of building screens into the design). This was my first lesson from the movie – don’t plan for seven and show the movie at eight, no matter how many people talk about “Jewish Time”. Fifteen minutes for schmoozing and late arrivals, and then start the movie, because I don’t want to be there forever.

The head of the Israel Engagement committee gave a brief introduction to the theme for the year, and a warning to the one sixteen year old in the audience that he had just made the age cut off, because there was some drugs and other adult themes in the movie.

I was a little apprehensive, partly because I’m always tense before seeing movies in movie theatres, worried that I’ll be trapped for an hour and a half watching a movie I don’t like, but also partly because the movie was billed as coming from a Palestinian perspective, and I had no idea what that would mean. The description of the movie had said that it was a story about three Palestinian women living together in an apartment in Tel Aviv, and it sounded like a sort of comedy/relationship movie, but there could still be anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli stuff going on, and while I’ve worked hard to challenge myself with different perspectives on Israel I tend to do it at home, where I can stop the movie or close the book and take a few deep breaths and pet a dog before continuing.

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Two dogs available for petting.

Once the lights went out I took a deep breath and told myself to accept the challenge of watching the movie, because, really, it wouldn’t kill me. I might get bored, or annoyed, but how bad could it be, especially with so many other members of my congregation filling the room. I rolled my eyes at all of the marijuana, and the smarmy men hitting on the gorgeous women at the beginning of the movie. I couldn’t really tell when the dialogue switched from Arabic to Hebrew, because they all spoke so quickly and fluently in both languages. The whole thing hurt my ego, because after so much effort to work on my Hebrew I was still stuck reading the subtitles like everyone else.

I noticed that even though some of the men in the movie were creepy, either overly smarmy or overly controlling, there were a lot of other characters worth watching, straight and gay, religious and secular, successful and not so successful. And the actresses in the main roles were very good, luminous really, and funny and smart and interesting. The friendships developing among the women, once the early partying and drug scenes were out of the way, were surprisingly gentle and sweet, and I started to really care about what happened to them, especially to the religious girl who seemed very familiar to me, despite being a religious Muslim rather than a religious Jew. I was almost patting myself on the back for my open-mindedness by then, for being able to look past the drugs and the sex and the politics and just enjoy the people.

And then the rape happened. I saw it coming when the controlling fiancé touched his girlfriend’s hair-covering and started to tug on it. No, I saw it coming before then, in the way he tried to control where she lived and what she planned to do for work once they were married. The conflict was all telegraphed from the beginning, but it was played light and sort of funny, and I figured that over the course of the film the religious girl would come to realize that some kind of independence would be great and maybe she didn’t have to do every single thing her fiancé or male relatives told her to do. I assumed that the movie would continue in the same light-hearted style, with the sex happening behind closed doors, and all of the challenging topics addressed with humor and ellipses.

And then the fiancé touched the religious girl’s hair covering (they didn’t call it a hijab in the movie, so I’m not calling it a hijab, even though that’s the only word I know for a Muslim woman’s hair covering). My whole body tensed, because I know what it means for a religious man to break what other people might see as a minor boundary. I don’t care if you are Muslim or Jewish or Christian, if you follow modesty laws and you suddenly break them, watch out.

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“I’m watching them. All of them.”

The rape started so quickly, and I was so busy telling the girl (silently) to get the hell out of there, that it took me a second to really freak out. I wanted to drag that man off of her, just reach up into the screen and toss him to the floor, and I couldn’t. The only thing I could do was run, or walk, out of there. If she couldn’t run, I would have to run for her.

I stood up awkwardly, because there wasn’t a lot of room between the rows of chairs, and quietly told my mother that I had to leave. I was willing to sit alone in the hall by myself for the next hour or two, if necessary, but I wasn’t going to stay in that room and watch a woman being raped. I felt like, by sitting there, I was allowing it to happen, even making it happen.

Mom followed me out immediately, and listened to me ranting all the way home, and even sat with me, and the dogs, while we watched a Hallmark Christmas movie to recover.

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It’s important to say that, even if they had warned me that there would be a rape in the movie, I’m not sure I would have known how it was going to affect me. Though, just the word rape would have been a trigger. No one used it. Watching people have sex on screen is embarrassing, and would have felt really weird in a room filled with fellow congregants, but not scary. Rape is scary.

 

As far as I know, no one else left. But I didn’t speak to anyone about it afterwards, so I don’t really know. I have no idea if they discussed the rape scene during the discussion after the movie, or if it had been eclipsed by other plot points by then. I don’t even know if anyone, other than the female rabbi who was sitting in front of me, even noticed that I left, or why. She emailed me after the movie, to make sure I was okay, and I sobbed with relief, because I was afraid that no one had even noticed that I’d left. Or why.

The thing is, a bunch of the people in that room have read my novel, or know about it, and know that I am an incest survivor. They do not talk to me about it, or ask me about it, though. And when I’ve offered to discuss it with the congregation, in person, in a letter, any which way, no one has taken me up on it. The fact that they can sit through a rape scene in order to show their support for Palestinian women and Palestinian filmmakers, but they don’t want to hear from me, hurts.

The rape scene, as much of it as I saw, still flashes through my mind over and over again. And I resent it. I have enough awful memories of my own. I don’t need more.

I felt selfish for walking out of the movie. I beat myself up about it for hours. I felt immature, and melodramatic, and I could hear my father’s voice in my head calling me Sarah Bernhardt and telling me that I was overreacting, again, just like I always used to do as a child when I got all riled up about my father’s behavior and the crazy conspiracy theories he liked to spin about why he kept being accused of sexual misconduct at work, with children.

But most of all I felt invisible and insignificant. I felt like, in the face of intersectionality and world issues, and the increasingly strong need for people not to think about certain things, I do not matter at all. That’s the scariest thing, to feel like I don’t matter to the people who matter to me. And I can’t shake that feeling any more than I can shake the etch-a-sketch of my mind and make the rape images go away.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

153 responses »

  1. Heliophile's diary

    Such a powerful post

    Reply
  2. I saw this film. I think it was the first time I saw Palestinian women in staring roles and who are secular. I found their stories compelling. But the rape scene was awful and I support you needing to leave. You may not know this, but the roommates did bond together to ‘get’ him and while that didn’t make up for what he did, I loved the female solidarity.

    Triggers take us by surprise, but there should have been a warning for this film, imo.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the story ended well! I had high hopes for those roommates and it’s good to know they found their way. I may have to go back and watch the rest of the movie, I’ll just keep my finger near the fast forward button just in case.

      Reply
  3. You are not invisible!! Most people just don’t know how to act around someone who has been through trauma. Maybe in a way you an ambassador helping to show others what to do or say which things are appropriate and which aren’t. I applaud you for leaving the movie. I’m sure you know how brains work, and by experiencing that over again, you will make it easier and faster for your body to remember. No. Allow yourself to heal.

    Reply
  4. Most inappropriate for the committee to have shown this movie without warning the audience prior to the showing. Dont look back, you are not going there. You are an amazing woman who has chosen to take her disasterous past experience and turn it into a celebration of victory of the human spirit. Thank you for liking my pages. I have simply decided that if I want enjoyment, fun and a wonderful life, then I must create it for myself in which ever way possible and for my family . Brachot

    Reply
  5. One does not have to be a rape or incest survivor, or even a woman, to understand why you walked out, Rachel. I’m so glad you did, and that you had a chance to process the complex feelings it generated in you. May the coming Festival of Lights warm you inside and out.

    Reply
  6. I’m not Jewish as you might know, but I am certain of one thing: YOU MATTER TO GOD.

    Reply
  7. I totally agree with your leaving the movie when the content was too much for you! I am a mother of two sons, and one of the moments when I felt the strongest was when I told my husband and sons that they could not watch a misogynistic action movie which I could not co-watch, which exiled me to another room because it was so uncomfortable for me. When I was a mother of toddlers, the rule was that they could not watch any TV that an adult was not willing to watch with them – this outlawed a number of mind-numbing cartoons. I was happy that this early lesson applied later, when I said they (including my husband) could not watch any content that they would be embarrassed to watch with me. Set limits, and live with them!

    Reply
    • Here, here, Allyson.
      Why do we seem to think, as a society, that all rules of civility, decency and morality we follow daily are suspended if we are making or watching “a film”?
      We’re not talking about obscure artists fighting for their freedom of expression.
      We’re talking about workaday people in jobs behind the camera that can’t resist flashing flesh and invading what once would have been considered intimate, even sacred spaces.

      Paz

      Reply
  8. Oh, and thanks for liking my blog (which is much less confrontational/unnerving/empowering)

    Reply
  9. birdseedinmyshoe

    You are an amazing writer. Your post are filled with such passion, you make me feel as if I was sitting beside you in the movie. And yes, I would have walked out with you. That horrific and cowardly act of rape does not need to be replayed and watched by an audience as if it’s entertainment. So wrong on so many levels.

    Reply
  10. Please don’t beat yourself up (there are enough people in the world willing to do it for you!). Years ago I was at an orientation for a new job and anyone arrested for domestic abuse was immediately fired. They showed a film about what constituted abuse, and although I was never physically abused, I was verbally abused. As soon as the man started in on his wife, the voice, the sneering, the terrible words and insinuations, I fled. I cried in the hallway. Wondered if I’d be fired on my first day, but the presenter came out and said it was ok and that many women never made it past the verbal abuse part in the film. I have tears in my eyes as I type this. Tears for me, tears for abused women, and tears for you. You did the right thing, Rachel…

    Reply
  11. I’m not able to ‘like’ this post because it is sad, but I said a prayer for you. x

    Reply
  12. I’m not going to like this post, just to leave a comment to say I have read it and been touched by it. May life give you brighter days to make up for what you have been through.

    Reply
  13. OKONKWO BEN CHINEDU

    Thanks

    Reply
  14. I am so sorry you were subjected to that and can only imagine how horrific that had to be for you to watch. I pray for God to bring you Peace in you thoughts and emotions, that no human can ever bring.

    Reply
  15. As several people have already commented, I would feel wrong to ‘like’ this post. Bit would like to say you showed far more strength & independence walking out of a film that made you feel uncomfortable.You would only have become more distressed watching more of it, so by sticking to your principle & leaving you did the best thing. I’m glad you had your mother with you for company. Hopefully in a few days you will stop thinking about this nasty experience, especially now you know how many friends & strangers send you their support through your blog.

    (And thanks very much for liking all my UK Christmas Number One posts this month- it’s nice to know someone is appreciating them.)

    Reply
  16. It certainly was nasty. I had difficulty reading. Glad you walked out. Hope you have great new year now

    Reply
  17. You should have walked out and you did the right thing by walking out. No one should sit there and support a rape. I am shocked that your church would show a movie with sex, drugs, and rape – especially rape. Being a rape/incest survivor myself, I understand how this hit you. I’ve read and reviewed your book and I can’t believe your church hasn’t taken advantage of your membership to address the congregation. I am so sorry, because you have a story that they should hear..

    Reply
  18. You are not alone in your aversion to violence against women. Violence in movies mostly bores me because it’s usually so implausible. But violence against women is simply a fact of life and thereby horrifying.
    BTW your little dogs are adorable!

    Reply
  19. Rachel, thank you for writing this. It’s important to me too.

    Reply
  20. There is a scene in a movie, I shan’t give the title.
    The story takes place in wartime. I won’t say which war.
    There are soldiers in uniform, invaders, occupying the defeated country.
    I won’t say which uniform, nor which country.
    A girl, a resident of the occupied territory, aged perhaps thirteen, walks up the street.
    Two uniformed soldiers comment to one another in a language most of us are unlikely to understand, and there are no captions to tell us what they say.
    They look at the girl and their countenance tells their story.
    They each rather politely take one arm of the girl, who complies and follows numbly.
    They disappear down a darkened alley.

    This is art. This is a film-maker telling us everything that needs to be said. Making us feel the terror and pain. Making me cry in my seat, eighty years and five thousand miles away from this fictional tragedy.
    Without showing a moment of it.

    We don’t need labels, nor even sages, to tell us what is right.
    In a film or real life, for women or men, for Jews or Muslims, real or fictionalized.

    Seek peace,

    Paz

    Reply

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