When we think of children who carry the burden of having famous parents, we often think of the offspring of movie stars or politicians. But in the Religious Zionist sector of Israeli society, being the child of a prominent rabbi comes with some very heavy baggage.
Filmmaker Racheli Wasserman, herself the daughter of such a rabbi, carries this load, and decided to unpack some of it by making “The Rabbi’s Daughter.” The short documentary, which Wasserman made as a student at the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & The Arts in Jerusalem, is an intimate and sensitive portrait of three young women who not only live in the shadow of their revered fathers, but who have also made the fraught decision to leave the religious life behind and forge new paths for themselves.
“The Rabbi’s Daughter” has caught the attention of Israeli film critics and the Israeli movie-going public alike. In December, it was awarded the best student film prize for the Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum, and earlier last fall it won the award for the best short documentary at the 2012 Haifa Film Festival. In 2011, the film was awarded the Aliza Shagrir Prize for outstanding documentary. Exceptionally for a student film, “The Rabbi’s Daughter” has been viewed more than 45,000 times online.
The half-hour film follows three young women as they interact with their rabbi fathers and expose their previously private thoughts and feelings about their complicated relationships with them. Tamar Aviner, daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City (and who recently declared that women should not engage in politics or run for seats in the Knesset), is a free-spirited artist and sensitive soul who struggles with being thrust into the public eye. Still clearly a spiritual person, Aviner has adopted a hippy-like peripatetic existence, living in a van and working as a street artist.
For Tamar Tzohar, daughter of Rabbi Yoram Tzohar, dean of Ulpana Bnei Akiva Kfar Pines (a residential religious girls’ school), and for Ruth Katz, daughter of Rabbi David Bigman, who heads Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa, the struggles are more about religious observance. Tzohar, a talented photographer and graphic designer, feels she has no way to connect to her father and seems to linger on the periphery of her family’s religious life. On a visit to her father’s school, which she once attended, she notes the irony of her father’s serving as a father figure for thousands of girls, while she — his actual daughter — feels so distant from him.
Katz, married to a young man named Motti, confronts her parents for the first time about the disapproval she senses from them about her choice to move away from religious observance. She tearfully tells her parents how frustrating it is for her and her husband to feel they have to hide details of their everyday life from them.