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Ortho-dykes In Israel

The powerful film “Keep Not Silent,” by Ilil Alexander (Women Make Movies) allows us to see inside the world of self-styled “Ortho-dykes” and what it feels like to be a lesbian within Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community, which reviles same-sex relationships. Although most of these lesbians have chosen to marry men and become mothers, they refuse (or are unable) to completely silence the deepest, truest part of themselves, which is sexually and emotionally drawn to women. The film focuses on the lives of three lesbians, two of whom must conceal their identities behind a screen in this film, lest they be recognized and ostracized from their communities. Their need to hide is made concrete, creating a visual tension that also gives the film an eerie quality of mystery.

All three women have made difficult and brave decisions. One chooses complete abstinence from sex with women, a pledge which, even after 20 years, she is hard-pressed to keep. A second divides her loyalties—she remains married to her husband but (with his knowledge and support) has a woman lover to whom she is committed. The third speaks as herself, but recognizes that she will pay a heavy price for becoming visible as a lesbian. Yet in spite of what she knows is a risk, she and her partner create a moving wedding ceremony which her parents (but, fortunately, not her brother and sister) adamantly refuse to attend. “Keep Not Silent” is a brave, groundbreaking, must-see film, compelling and poignant. 

Evelyn Torton Beck is professor emerita of English at the University of Maryland and the author of Nice Jewish Girls, A Lesbian Anthology.