My first exposure to Orthodox Judaism looked something like that pictured above. As a newly-minted lawyer in my mid-twenties, I went to work in the litigation department of a primarily Jewish law firm. My primary mentor, one of the most Orthodox men in the practice, tried to teach me something about his religion and culture as well as a little about trying cases. In the form of all good teachers, he started with literature, giving me Herman Wouk's Winds of War trilogy to read. He also invited me to his fifth child's bris, held in his family's beautiful suburban home. I had never before been to an event at which only men were actors and women gathered in another room, craning necks and turning heads to see and listen.
Later, I would have a good deal more interaction with the Orthodox, teaching in one of their schools for six years. I came to admire their fidelity to their faith and to their millennia of culture, even as I questioned the Zionism that motivated much of their lives. Certainly my own faith was much enhanced by my increasing familiarity with the rabbinic Judaism which followed closely upon the years following the life of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The movie Fill the Void brought that world back in a flash, The story: an ultra-Orthdox family in Tel Aviv awaits the birth of the first grandchild and the likely engagement of the second daughter. The first daughter dies in childbirth and, as the initial year afterward passes and it becomes apparent that her husband may marry a young widow in Belgium and take the baby with him, the mother launches an effort to see him married to the younger daughter.
The world is one that many of us would find bewildering: the segregation of women and men; the emphasis on marriage as a woman's destiny; the insularity of the community in which the manifest power is brokered entirely by men, the latent by women. And yet it is also a community in which deep love and respect mark relationships between the genders and among women and among men, in which we see a rabbi who addresses concerns both highly theological and utterly practical, and in which connection with the God of the Universe is ever present and always acknowledged.
The big questions are, of course, the same in every community the world over: Love. Loss. Fidelity. Identity. Community. Disappointment. Hope. We often note that God is present in the particulars of everyday life, and this movie portrays that reality with beauty and sensitivity.