DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Film helps unlock sexual dilemma

THE media loves to allege homophobia, particularly when it supposedly comes from a religious kibbutz in the Jewish state.

The publicity blurb for the film Who's Gonna Love Me Now?, which will be screened from the beginning of April, claims that the film's protagonist Saar Maoz was "kicked out of his conservative kibbutz because of his sexual orientation", that he fled to London to enjoy a gay lifestyle "denied to him in Israel" and that "as far as his family is concerned, he simply does not exist".

Watching the film and interviewing Saar, I gained a totally different impression.

Saar was expelled from the religious kibbutz Sde Eliyahu not because he was gay, but because he was found breaking Shabbat - a rule which would apply to any kibbutz member, gay or straight.

But although not allowed to live permanently on the kibbutz, Saar told me that he was always welcome there and that he would visit his family regularly, particularly for simchot and chaggim.

Although he left Israel to live in London, as have many other Israelis and expats from all over the world, Saar told me that when he was first asked to become the subject of a film about his sexual orientation and its effect on his family, his reply was: "I felt that I and my family did not have any problems. We were fine and were in contact the whole time. I went to Shabbat and Passover dinners, sat there and said the right things and kept away from the difficult issues."

But, as in so many families, under the politeness of family occasions lay buried many unexplored issues bubbling under the surface.

What I found so refreshing about the film Who's Gonna Love Me Now? was that those normally accused of homophobia finally had a voice.

Most poignant were the concerns of Saar's mother trying desperately to come to terms with the fact that her son was living a life contrary to Torah teaching.

Yet she still loved him unconditionally and was extremely worried about his health when she discovered that he was HIV positive.

Saar has now returned to live in Israel where he works for the Israel AIDS Task Force. He decided to return to Israel because he could not cope with his nephews and nieces seeing him as "the uncle who lives across the sea".

When I asked Saar whether he considered his family to be homophobic, he laughed.

He told me: "Definitely not, my mum opened a support group for parents of gay people living with HIV which is unbelievable.

"She helps to run the group at a gay centre. My dad is telling everybody that it doesn't matter who you love, but you have to love your children."

Neither, he said, was Israel homophobic, although like in most countries one had to be constantly vigilant to protect human rights.

The film for me was liberating because it finally gave a voice to those who find it difficult to come to terms with this issue.

I am not denying that in the past gays suffered immense persecution and that they still have extremely difficult issues with which to deal.

But playing the victim card, which gays have played very successfully, has silenced the rest of us who are scared to say or write anything lest we immediately be labelled homophobic.

There will only be true reconciliation between the different sexual orientations when people on both sides of the sexual divide are allowed to voice their feelings and concerns honestly with understanding and compassion, as took place in this courageous film.


Iran poses Purim puzzle

PURIM never goes away. I must admit that for the past year, with the rise of Donald Trump, I have been obsessed with this minor festival. But I am not alone.

No less Purim-conscious are Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and even Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

But for Bibi, who could possibly benefit from the new American president, it is not the Trump connection with the festival but that of contemporary Persia, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Two years ago, Bibi tried to prevent the US-Iran deal by telling the American Congress on erev Purim that we must stop another Persian Iranian dictator from destroying the Jewish people with their nuclear weapons.

Bibi took the same message to Moscow before Purim this year, but Russian president Vladimir Putin was not interested in the Purim story. However, Iranian minister Zarif was.

With a touch of historical revisionism, at which contemporary Iran is so adept, particularly in regard to the Holocaust and Israel's relationship to its historic homeland, Zarif told an alternative version of the Purim story.

In this, the heroes were not Esther and Mordechai but the Persian king Ahasuerus.

Zaraf reckoned that the Purim story was one of three occasions when historical Iran saved the Jews, the others being Persian king Cyrus who allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple and return from captivity and later when Persia sheltered Holocaust survivors.

Which begs the question: if Iran is pro-Jewish, why is it intent on destroying the Jewish state and particularly the Temple Mount which Cyrus allowed to be rebuilt?

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