The Women’s Balcony is a debut film by Emil Ben Shimon, about the dangers of religious fanaticism. This is a charming and joyous story of a small Sephardi synagogue in Jerusalem, where the women are an integral part of the religious community. This is a tolerant community, led by a wise and understanding rabbi, who offers a moderate brand of orthodoxy. One Shabbat morning during a bar mitzvah, the women’s balcony collapses. When the dust clears, it becomes apparent that the rebbetzin has been badly hurt and, as a result, the rabbi falls into a state of confusion and despair. The community becomes paralyzed at the prospect of rebuilding their synagogue, especially without the leadership of their beloved rabbi.
Along comes a charismatic, young rabbi who steps in and offers to takes charge. He immediately sets his hand to getting permits and renovating the synagogue. His renovation, however, does not include the rebuilding of the women’s balcony. He also makes additional changes -- he convinces the men that their wives must be modestly dressed and must cover their heads. This causes a rift among the women – some accept this and others refuse to.
The women decide to take matters into their own hands and they begin a fundraising campaign to rebuild their balcony inside the synagogue. They are a strong part of the community and the new rabbi’s mistake is that he tries to brush their needs aside.
The film includes wonderful characters – both the men and the women. There is the owner of a spice shop in the souk and his smart and loving wife. Then there is the younger generation – a woman involved in a budding romance with one of the charismatic rabbi’s yeshiva students, who himself begins to realize that his rabbi is willing to compromise his ethical standards, all for the advancement of halacha (Jewish law).
The Women’s Balcony is a fast-paced film, full of quirky characters, lots of good food, all set on the backdrop of the winding alleyways of the old neighborhoods of Jewish Jerusalem -- a film about the empowerment of women and about fighting back against religious extremism. The film is available from United King.