Self-made. A story of a Jewish woman 

‘Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who has not made me a woman.’ With these words Orthodox Jews welcome every morning. Our guest from the Hasidic community shows, that a Jewish woman can make herself

Fill the void 

Shira Mendelman, an 18-year-old woman from Tel Aviv, is looking forward to marrying her beloved boyfriend when the tragedy strikes her family. Her older sister, Esther, dies in childbirth, leaving her husband – Yochay – alone with a new-born son. The Hasidic community where Shira and Yochay belong, mourns the death of Esther, and looks for a solution to this difficult situation. 

Their pain, the emptiness of grief is filled with the sounds of Psalm 137 sung a cappella: ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.’ The psalm’s touching melody accompanies the community during all of the most important ceremonies: weddings, circumcisions, and funerals. 

The creator

Shira’s story is showcased in the movie ‘Fill the Void’ (2012) directed by Rama Burshtein. Rama, born in New York, ended up spending almost her entire life in Tel Aviv. There, she graduated from the Sam Spiegel film school. As a Jewish woman, Rama “created herself”: she was born into a secular Jewish family and after graduation, converted to Orthodox Judaism. 

She used her knowledge in directing many movies catered exclusively towards the Hasidic women’s community, deprived of access to secular cinema and television. With this purpose in mind, she founded an orthodox collective of film producers. ‘Fill the Void’ became the first feature-length film directed by an orthodox Jewish woman, aimed at reaching the general public. The work received numerous awards all over the world including the Best Actress at the Venice Biennale. 

Frame from the film 'Fill The Void' by Karin Bar.
Frame from the film ‘Fill The Void’ by Karin Bar.

The strength of Hasidic women

The film’s success and strength lie in its authenticity. Presenting such a sincere and intimate portrait of the community was only possible thanks to the cooperation with the group’s members. The very process of creating ‘Fill the Void’ took fifteen years, counting from the moment when Rama Burshtein heard the original story at a wedding. Critics emphasize its universality, comparing it to the works of Jane Austen, where the heroines look for their place in the world of rigid rules but without trying to escape them. Rama stresses that although in the world of Orthodox Judaism marriages are arranged, the opinion of both parties is always taken into account. Her film’s aim is to introduce the strength of Hasidic women to a wider audience. 

This article was published as part of our musical series meant to familiarise the reader with music from various cultures by presenting the stories of their background and the people associated with it. The originator of the series is Michał Misiarczyk.

Michał Misiarczyk – sociologist, works with the German language. Fascinated by the cultural diversity of the world, in particular music and languages. Volunteer in the media department of Salam Lab.

Sources: Magdalena Rzadkowolska, Kobieta żydowska, kobieta czytająca, „Napis” XI (2005).

Translated by Alicja Czarnocka.


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