During a Shabbat dinner in Montreal, filmmaker Evan Beloff was drawn into a conversation with a modern Orthodox woman in her mid-20s, the daughter of one of his friends. She was complaining about her difficulties finding a man of quality in her community whom she could marry.
Her laments over finding a soulmate – or, as it’s called in Yiddish, her “bashert” – seemed to be universal, Beloff tells The CJN.
After the dinner, the filmmaker wondered if he could speak to the young woman and her friends about their woes. However, Beloff soon discovered that it would be hard for single Jews from religious backgrounds to talk about this personal subject.
“What happens a lot when you make films is people get cold feet [when it comes to being interviewed],” Beloff says. “They get cold feet because of this omnipresent judgment that comes from the [religious Jewish] community when you’re now advertising that you’re single.”
Nevertheless, the result of his exploration, a trim and witty documentary called Kosher Love, airs as part of CBC Firsthand on Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. The 44-minute film explores the collision between today’s dating culture and religious values.
Beloff and Oscar-winning producer Frederic Bohbot (The Lady in Number 6) investigate, learning that there is a fine balance between keeping traditional marital customs and engaging with ideas of pleasure and lust that are more common in the secular world.
The subject matter proved to be a tough sell for many in Montreal’s Jewish community – and because of CBC guidelines around Canadian content, Beloff was not interested in exploring these issues south of the border.
“We reformatted the idea because, initially, I was having a lot of problems finding chassidic singles,” Beloff says.
Eventually, the filmmaker decided to focus on four characters. The anchor of the documentary is Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, a chassidic matchmaker in Montreal who serves as both a guide to the young Jews in the film and a narrator for viewers potentially unfamiliar with the religious customs.
As Rabbi Bernath asks near the start of the film, in today’s fast-paced society, do people still have the patience to wait for love to grow?
In the doc, Rabbi Bernath (nicknamed “The Love Rabbi”) speaks of his responsibility for setting up first dates and teaching relationships classes.
One of his most difficult cases is Yonatan, a 30-something rapper from Côte Saint-Luc, who is eager to find a partner but is already married to his musical career.
Rabbi Bernath was originally part of the film to help Beloff and the producers find local singles. But early interviews with the matchmaker revealed a charming and fascinating figure who could be a voice of reason and also inspire discussion.
“He was so good on camera and so funny,” Beloff says. “He can really manoeuvre and navigate the secular world, but at the same time, he’s very, very conservative.”
Rabbi Bernath’s ideas about love and marriage also get some pushback from Miriam Leah, one-half of a religious couple Beloff befriended in Montreal who quickly agreed to star in Kosher Love.
Miriam Leah and Michael met online, and she made the first move to contact him. Even though they lived in different cities – she was in New York, he in Montreal – the spark was instant, and there was a quick turnaround between the first date and their wedding.
The film’s climactic scene is a confrontation between Rabbi Bernath and Miriam Leah over the importance of romance and personal pleasure in marriage. Their clashing is an about-face from the rest of the mostly light-hearted film, and Beloff says it was a challenge to find the right tone.
“That scene alone took a month to edit because it’s very controversial,” Beloff says, “and the stuff that was in it before [the final cut] was even more controversial.”
Even with a few raw moments, an offbeat, insightful and sympathetic look at Canada’s religious Jewish community is a rarity.
“I’m happy that the film asks good questions and forces people to think [about love],” Beloff says.
“If it somehow transforms a little bit of their point-of-view, or their point-of-view of the [religious] people that they’re watching, that’s great.”