Friday, September 18, 2009

A Conversation with Hadar Galron, star and co-writer of Bruriah

Hadar Galron as Bruriah

Assistant Programming Coordinator
Toronto Jewish Film Festival

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival kicks off its eighteenth year with the Canadian Premiere of the provocative Israeli film, Bruriah.

When, in the second century, the Rabbis declared that "women are light-minded," a learned and intelligent woman named Bruriah mocked their statement. Her husband, Rabbi Meir, tried to prove the rabbis correct by sending one of his students to seduce her. She was seduced, but when she discovered that her husband had planned it, she committed suicide.

Drawing upon this little-known story from the talmud, the film tells of a modern-day Bruriah, who sets out on a personal crusade in which she confronts her desires and the nature of her relationship with her husband, Yakov.

Hadar Galron, co-writer and star of Bruriah is a playwright, actress and comedian. She was born in London and immigrated to Israel with her Jewish orthodox family at the age of 13. After studying in a religious high school, Galron, against her parent’s wishes, joined the army and then pursued a degree in Theatre at Tel Aviv University, where she began writing and performing professionally.

Hadar Galron created Pulsa, a one-woman comedy show that took aim at the status of women in Jewish law. In 2005 Hadar wrote Mikve, a full-length drama for the stage that peeked at orthodox women’s lives through the ritual of the Mikve. In 2007, she co-wrote the screenplay to Avi Nesher’s The Secrets (TJFF 2008).

I recently had the opportunity to interview her by email.

STUART HANDS: Why do you think the biblical story of Bruriah is very little-known today?

HADAR GALRON: In the film, Bruriah asks her husband Yakov, "Why was the story hidden? If they really managed to prove that 'women are light-headed' the story should have been publicized…" In the fine-cut of the film, the question is left almost unanswered; a hint to our answer is provided by an earlier question asked by Bruriah to Yakov: Why didn't he (Rabbi Meir) try to prove her [wrong] via 'mind'–with his brains—rather than sending his pupil to seduce her?

My bold answer would be: Maybe it is because, even though his pupil managed to seduce Bruriah, he did not prove women to be light-headed, but rather, on the contrary, he proved both women and men equal! How? Throughout Jewish history, it is women that used seduction; it was their strong "weapon" against men. If, in order to prove Bruriah wrong, his brains were not enough (she is said to have been a brilliant scholar herself ) and Meir had to use the “women's weapon,” has he not proven their equality?

SH: Why did you choose to make a film about this story?

HG: It was not I, but the director-producer, Avraham Kushnir, who chose the story. He says that for years he thought about it, and [feels that it] is the most provocative story of love in all Jewish history. He often quotes Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation… "

SH: When were you first exposed to the story of Bruriah?

HG: A few years before we started the film. I knew of Bruriah beforehand—heard many stories—but not this one. This story was 'unspoken' where I came from (my religious background). Even today I have heard many apologetic explanations about this story being a moral rather than a real story, as all the others about Bruriah…

Galron and Baruch Brener in Bruriah

SH: Would you talk about how sexual intimacy and the passing of knowledge are linked in Bruriah? Do you feel that this also occurs in The Secrets?

HG: I believe that sexuality and a certain sense of knowledge are linked already in the bible: "…and Adam knew his wife Eve" (Genesis). This obviously doesn't mean he googled her to find out where she studied… The meaning is sexual intimacy—he and she were joined as one, as a couple. What are the things we know…really know? [I’m not referring to] the sense of information we store in our minds, but rather to the sense of 'knowing by experience'? Sexual intimacy in Judaism is considered the height of spiritual experiences—that also beholds (if wrongly used) the danger of leading one to the lowest pit of impurity and sin. As Yakov says in the film "the tree of life and the tree of knowledge are the same tree".

Right: The Secrets (2007)

SH: In The Secrets, one of the teachers at the Midrasha says to the young student, Naomi, that religious women within the Orthodox community are in the midst of a "silent revolution" in terms of liberation. Do you see such change taking place?

HG: I think that—with a slight delay (about 10-20 years!)—feminism has finally reached the orthodox community. They are no longer 'housewives' and are slowly but surely becoming aware of themselves and their own needs and passions… However, there is a price to pay; in The Secrets, Naomi loses her whole world; in the original story of Bruriah and Rabbi Meir, Bruriah loses her life. In the film, the modern-day Bruriah doesn't commit suicide—because society is ready for a new breed if women—although she cannot yet confront either her husband or father: She has to be manipulative to get what she wants. Her daughter, Michal [who is studying to become a rabbi] is 'the woman of the future'. In reality, there's still a long way to go…

SH: Four people are credited as writers for Bruriah. Would you mind talking about the evolution of the project, the story and the screenplay?

HG: As I already mentioned Bruriah is Avraham Kushnirs' baby. He told me years ago (after seeing my satirical stand-up show on women's status in Jewish law!) that I was Bruriah. He also picked out Baruch Brener as Yakov. There were no auditions for the 2 leading roles…

The first draft was written by Kushnir and Yuval Cohen (also DOP and editor of the film). The basic story was good but the screenplay was, well… almost 300 pages–mostly irrelevant. There was already a first shooting day set. I didn't know what to do… In the end, I met Kushnir and lightly suggested he should work further on the screenplay because the characters and relationships didn’t really exist yet. He said he's not moving the shooting date- I took a deep breath, silently parted from my first cinematic role, and told him that it would be a waste of time and, on his part, a huge waste of money, but wished him luck. He then postponed the shooting for six months and invited Baruch and myself to join the 'workshop'. We began the whole screenplay anew. Writing in a foursome is a very trying experience… especially as all the other three were men and we were writing the role of a woman.

SH: Would you talk a bit about the career of your Bruriah co-star, Baruch Brener, who plays your husband, Yakov? [He played the religious lawyer in Brothers, TJFF 2009]

HG: Baruch Brener (Yakov) is an actor, teacher and… a rabbi ! (an orthodox rabbi, not conservative or reform…) He teaches Midrash and Talmud as well as acting in Nissan Nativ (one of Israel's leading drama-colleges), and performs on stage in a few musical shows.

Left: Baruch Brener in Brothers

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