Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women is a feature documentary that takes us into the rarefied world of young Hasidic women living what some consider an 18th-century way of life in 21st century Québec. The women are Chabad Lubavitch, a sect of Orthodox Hasidim, one of the more conservative branches of Judaism today.
With unprecedented access, Shekinah explores the perspectives of these young women from school age through courtship and marriage. Their relationships with men are based on the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism. They see God as both masculine and feminine, and marriage as pre-ordained in heaven. The laws of Torah affect almost everything they do, and still their lives are filled with great passion. They explain why “kosher” sex, with all its complex divine commandments, is as intense and blissful as Eastern Tantric practices, and why they see themselves as more liberated than most women today. Their revelations break many long-standing stereotypes and unveil the secrets of this mysterious women’s world.
Shekinah also explores the evolving relationships of these young women with the greater Jewish and non-Jewish communities — from both perspectives. We see how tolerance develops and misconceptions dissolve, as both sides learn about each other and come to open their hearts and minds.
In filming Shekinah, I was granted rare access to a community that is unknown, closed, and misunderstood. What I found was the opposite of what I expected. Behind the rigid, drab exterior that the Hasidic people present to the world, there exists a vibrant passionate sensuality that seems more liberating and fulfilling than that of the secular world I come from. Is Hasidism really what it appears to be? Are all the restrictions so repressive, or do they have another purpose?
The film explores the intimate life of Hasidic women. The point-of-view of the film is that there are other ways of seeing and experiencing life. The Hasids believe in the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism. They believe in a primal essence called God that makes up all of creation. They say that most of the time, we are unaware of our transcendental identity and that in marriage and lovemaking it is possible to become aware of the spiritual.
If you believe that your love one is a reflection of God, it will certainly create a buzz in your life. The ordinary becomes the extra-ordinary. In our materialistic, consumer-driven world, I believe we all need a little more this kind of soul.
Ultimately, Shekinah is not so much about Hasidic beliefs, as it is about exploring the possibilities of looking at the world in a different way. Beneath the surface lays the potential for a much richer and more mystical life, if you want to see it.
How realistic is all this. Well, according to the Hasids and the Rolling Stones, “Its just a kiss away.”
— Abbey Neidik