A small Jerusalem synagogue has the joy of a bar mitzvah celebration ruined by the collapse of the balcony that holds the women’s section, setting off a series of events shattering the existing order and establishing the true hierarchy of men and women in “The Women’s Balcony.”
The acclaimed first feature from director Emil Ben-Shimon, which received nominations for five Israeli Academy Awards, is the closing night move of this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. The only downside of that selection is that moviegoers only get one chance to spend time with this fictional Sephardic community.
No one is killed in the balcony collapse, but the rabbi’s wife is critically injured, leaving the beloved rabbi psychologically incapacitated. The congregants have no building and no leader and struggle even to gather a minyan in a borrowed space.
Enter a charismatic yeshiva rabbi, who offers guidance, structure and a plan to rebuild the synagogue. He also offers new ideas about the depth of observance needed to avoid such a catastrophe in the future and the proper place for women — which isn’t necessarily in sight of the bimah, at least not until new Torahs have been obtained.
You’ll have a good idea of what comes next if you’ve ever seen or read Aristophanes — and if you haven’t, shame on you. The pleasure of this film comes from taking the journey with a delightful cast of earnest, real characters. It’s easy to feel that you’re exploring your own beliefs as the women and the new rabbi teach the male congregants conflicting lessons.
“The Women’s Balcony” is fun, funny and revealing about several streams of religious life in Jerusalem.