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Isha Ahot (2000)

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2001 (Israel)  »

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Sister-Wife  »

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An extremely poor documentary about an interesting subject
17 May 2003 | by See all my reviews

How much the `Hebrew Israelites' depicted in this film have in common with 'real' Jews is a mystery that is never revealed in this film. In fact, nothing about this religious community is explained. `The Kingdom', as this community is referred to, is comprised of several hundred black people, most of whom -if not all - emigrated from the United States to Israel. The film explains nothing of the religion, how this exodus of sorts began, how these `Israelites' interact with the other (real) Jews outside of their community, and how they manage to support themselves financially. There is some talk about their disenchantment with the U.S., what with its racism and cycle of drugs and crime in the black community, but it would be interesting to know how these folks took such a dramatic step in this direction. This documentary instead chooses to look solely at an element of their society that makes the Hassidic community seem progressive in comparison. In `The Kingdom', polygamy is quite acceptable. We don't learn how many of these Israelite families practice polygamy but given the fact that 52% of the general population of the Earth is female, well statistically, there just wouldn't be enough wives to go around for every man (especially since in the law of The Kingdom, a man CAN have up to six wives)! So, we don't know if the family that this film focuses on is extremely unique, somewhat common, if The Kingdom is just lucky enough to breed more females than males, or if there's some kind of recruiting program for women going on back in the States (WHITE slavery anyone?). Who knows? I sure would like to!

The documentary is cinema verite- i.e. no narrative, just bits of facts that will very likely give people all sorts of impressions that may or may not have much to do with the reality of this community. Most of the eye-view we get is from the two wives of one particular man. They don't seem very happy except when they suddenly become aware that the camera is focusing on them. One can't help but cringe to hear one of the `Israelites' in the film talk of past slavery, and then see how it is still propagated against women in this community. In The Kingdom, the man is king. The husband featured refers to his wives as queens, but I've never heard of any queen who had no choice but to live as a servant to her husband. It would be interesting to know how a man who has a job as a laborer (machinist) can support himself, ten kids and two wives. It would seem that the community might have taken a page or two out of the Kibbutz world; -everyone chips in- but in a Kibbutz, each community is mostly self-sufficient by growing crops that bring in income for the community. Your guess is as good as mine where the shekels ARE coming from, but I could imagine that it's part of the overall income from selling books and paraphernalia throughout the U.S. and other countries. Again, who knows? One also wonders if this cult -er, religion- enjoys non-profit status, since Israel does not recognize them in a religious context, let alone as citizens. Overall, this documentary brings up far more questions than it answers. I'll try to give the filmmakers some slack because I see that IMDb has registered this film as having a 60 minute running time, and I saw it on the Trio channel, which means that about fifteen minutes were cut out to make way for commercials. Still, a documentary of such a controversial subject needs to have a variety of angles and as much in depth coverage as possible.


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