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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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‘Hineini’ by Any Other Name…

I don't have a problem with the documentary, only the title.
Coming Out in a Jewish High School

The Hebrew word “Hineini” (Here I am) was first spoken by our forefather Abraham, in response to a call from God, as well as in answer to an inquiry from his own son, Isaac. Since then, it has been reserved a special place on the mantel of prized Jewish expressions, depicting the spirit of voluntarism and even heroism.

“Hineni” (with a spelling variation) is also the name of an outreach organization founded by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.

In short, it’s a word with a good (yichus) pedigree.

Now the same exalted word is being used as the title of a documentary film: “Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School.”

Actually, the film was produced back in 2005, but I only found out about it last night, when an invitation landed in my email.

The 2005 movie, directed by Irena Fayngold, chronicles the story of one student’s “courageous fight to establish a gay-straight alliance at a Jewish high school in the Boston area and the transformative impact of her campaign on her entire community.”

Shulamit Izen enters 9th grade at The New Jewish High School in Waltham, Massachusetts as an out lesbian, “longing to connect more deeply with her Jewish identity.”

In interviews with Shulamit, her family, teachers, and other students, the film exhibits “a potent and inspiring story of Jewish pluralism and a community navigating the cross-currents of Jewish tradition and social change.”

I don’t have a problem with a documentary about a teenage Jewish lesbian trying to survive the 9th grade in a Boston Jewish High School. And I would even grant the filmmakers (or promo copywriter) that openly seeking a lesbian Jewish girlfriend requires a “courageous fight.”

But I seriously object to using the precious expression of personal devotion to others—the word “Hineini”—to describe the sexual ambivalence of a Jewish teen. It’s bad form.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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