By Alexander Stevens (Wicked Local Arts)
November 4, 2011
"Fun" isn't exactly the word you'd use to describe "Standing Silent," a new documentary about alleged sexual abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore. It's more like "gripping," "unsettling" and "important."
"Standing Silent" follows Phil Jacobs, a writer for the Jewish Times in Baltimore, on his quest to blow the lid off the sexual molestation going on at the hands of prominent rabbis. It won't be pretty. Before the film is over, Jacobs will not only be ostracized by segments of his own community, he'll also receive death threats.
But that can be dismissed as the small-mindedness of the ignorant few. What's more alarming is the comments like "Did you have to print the alleged offender's name?" that he gets from even his more rational neighbors. It's proof that the Jewish faith isn't exempt from the craziness that other religions have encountered when confronting this volatile issue. And sometimes the nature of the community complicates the path to justice: Lashon hora, a Hebrew term that means speaking ill of others, is considered a sin.
Of course, the whole issue will resonate with locals, who fought - and continue to endure - the cases of Catholic sexual abuse in their own backyards. (That's probably one of the reasons the Boston Jewish Film Festival chose "Standing Silent.") The moments when the religious community in Baltimore disgustingly turns its back on the issue will resonate for everyone who followed the Catholic scandal. In fact, the alleged victims in these cases face many of the same issues - sexual abuse by religious figures is a particularly heinous abuse of power and trust. The film makes the point that the insular nature of the Orthodox Jewish community only makes it worse.
"Standing Silent" indirectly champions the press, specifically the power and the importance of community journalism. The Jewish Times deserves credit for its reporting, which began in 2007. As one member of the Times points out, the publication is dedicated to strengthening the Jewish community. And sometimes, in order to get better, you must lance your ugliest wounds.
Director Scott Rosenfelt does a good job telling the story, allowing the issues to evolve and deepen as the film progresses. He offers up a powerful twist at about the halfway point - I won't reveal it here - but it further explains motivations for the film and provides another startling example of the pervasiveness of this crime against our youth.
"Standing Silent" doesn't really break new ground, but that knot in your gut is proof that this documentary is real, powerful and important.