by Avner Shavit for Walla

Amichai Lau-Lavi is one of the most fascinating, important and controversial figures in contemporary Judaism. He is a scion of the Lao tribe, an aristocratic family of Israeli rabbis that he says goes back 38 generations. His uncle Israel Meir Lau was the chief rabbi of Israel and his cousin David Lau is the chief Ashkenazi rabbi now. Amichai himself was ordained as a rabbi and insisted on serving as a conservative and non-reform rabbi. All this might sound like a biography of someone who will go with the flow, but it’s really not like that.

Lau-Lavi grew up in Israel and also served in the IDF, but after the Israeli media brought him out of the closet without his consent in the early nineties, he moved to New York and reinvented himself – initially, as a drag queen in the image of an ultra-Orthodox widow of Hungarian descent, and was even a guest on Rosh’s talk show The future government Yair Lapid and complimented him on his Hungarian gardens. After that, he became a prominent community leader in New York, and founded events that celebrated Judaism in a theatrical, brazen way. Now, he is a rabbi who offers a new vision, and

many around him claim, Politely and sometimes less, Judaism needs boundaries – otherwise, these boundaries are very flexible. He marries couples of the same sex, even when one of them is not a Jew and does not convert, and expresses sympathy with the Palestinian victims in Israel, then and now , he supported the Women of the Wall, and in America he participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Amichai Lau-Lavi at the screening of “Sabbath Queen” in Tribeca / Walla system, Avner Shavit

The director Simcha Sandy Dubovsky followed Lao-Lavi for no less than 21 years. This journey came to an end in the last few days, with the docu “Sabbath Queen” which made its debut at the New York Tribeca Festival.

On one level, the film is a portrait of Lao-Lavi, who manages to conquer the audience thanks to his charismatic personality. The film also interviews his brother Binyamin, a well-known figure in the Israeli media and public, who is now the head of the 929-Tanakh together project. He obviously represents a completely different Judaism than his brother, but nevertheless agreed to appear in this documentary, and speaks with great restraint and respect. Here is an example How can you believe in completely different things and yet not start a fratricidal war?

On another level, the film is a challenge to the orthodox establishment. In thirty years, most Jews in the world will be Orthodox, which he says will bring about the end of Judaism as we know it. He is convinced that it can be reinvented and still preserve its heritage and tradition – or as he says, not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It is not clear when he will arrive in Israel. From “Sabbath Queen” / Tribeca Festival

“Sabbath Queen” manages to touch the most burning questions in the Jewish-American community. From our point of view, the outstanding question is the attitude towards Israel, but an equally dramatic question is “mixed marriages”. In today’s United States, the number of marriages between Jews and non-Jews has long since crossed fifty percent. Some believe that every time this happens, the community loses another Jew, because the data proves that in such families the involvement in Jewish life and tradition decreases significantly. There are those who present contradictory studies and claim that we are actually “earning” more Jews this way, and that regardless of affiliation, Judaism will only survive if it becomes more hybrid and diverse. Of course, it is clear where Lao-Lavi’s heart is.

It is also clear which camp the audience present at the screening is in. The hall was full to capacity – hundreds of people – and they cheered for the hero of the film and his vision. At one point in this docu, Lao-Levi talks about his opposition to the Orthodox “hold” on Judaism, and the ceiling almost collapses from the applause. In a conversation after the screening, he said that it is possible to cry about what happened on October 7 and also cry about the destruction and hunger in Gaza, and the words received applause as well. And there were also laughs, when he explained why he wears purple – “There is a misunderstanding about the expression ‘with virtue’. It does not necessarily mean that we are the chosen people. Perhaps the meaning is that we should wear purple.”

Live from Shabbat to Shabbat. From “Sabbath Queen” / Tribeca Festival

The screening of “Sabbath Queen” was a powerful, even spiritual experience, but it must be admitted that both the film and Leo Levi preached to the choir, in front of a liberal and sympathetic audience that agrees with their position regarding Orthodox Judaism. It would be more interesting to experience his meeting with a more challenging audience, for example in Israel. This docu will still come to us, but from what I could understand, it won’t happen in the coming months.

And another word about his screening at Tribeca. Geographically, it took place in a movie theater in the East Village, which was home to New York’s Heidi Theater from the 1920s to the 1940s. Chronologically, it took place in the week when New York experienced shockingly serious anti-Semitic incidents, the likes of which we have not seen here in years. It was amazing to think about all the layers that were in this film and in its screening, between Judaism that has become extinct, Judaism on the defensive, Judaism on the attack, and Judaism that is trying to reinvent itself.

Do We Not All Share One Father?
הדוקו הזה מציע חוזה חדש ליהדות. הקהל בניו יורק השתגע עליו