We are often asked how we got the idea to make this film. When Shulamit was a senior in high school she told the story of her struggle to start a gay-straight alliance at her high school, The New Jewish High School (now Gann Academy) to a small group of adults gathered at a Keshet house party. Among them was an established businessman who had only recently come out to his close friends and family. Yet in his professional life he hid his identity. He was so inspired by her story of personal and communal change that he offered a donation to make a short film about her. “This is a story that could impact Jewish communities all over the country,” he said. “This is a story that needs to be heard.” We teamed up with Irena Fayngold, a professional filmmaker and Keshet supporter and set to work on what we believed would be a five minute profile of Shulamit.
Early on, we understood that to tell Shula’s story, we needed to tell the story of her school community. Yet from our first step, we encountered obstacles that both challenged the feasibility and highlighted the necessity of the task before us: after one day of shooting, the board of the school voted to deny us permission to film on school property. This rescinded the headmaster’s previous decision to give us full access to the school. How could we make a documentary about change in a school without any footage of the school? We didn’t know but we decided that we had to try.
Over the next three years we conducted twenty-five interviews and compiled over one hundred hours of footage. This was a story not just about one young woman but about a whole community undergoing transformative change.
We saw this change in action when parents at the school who opposed the board’s decision began organizing in support of our project; when a recent graduate, now a young filmmaker, came forward and offered us hours of film that he shot while a student at the school; when we met with board members to share excerpts from the work-in-progress and talk about our vision for this film.
In our last few months of production, the board allowed us to use footage of the school and to interview Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, the headmaster, an essential voice in the story.
The making of Hineini has enabled the dialogue about inclusion that Shulamit sparked in one school to continue in other communities all around the country. We hope that Hineini will help your community engage similarly with the fundamental themes of this story: the meaning of community, identity and difference, the Jewish imperative for social justice, and the evolution of Jewish thought and tradition.
For the gay man whose vision inspired this project, Hineini has served as a kind of tikkun, a healing, a righting of a wrong. We are honored to have played a role in facilitating one tikkun while documenting another and hope that this resource will provoke, enrich, and inspire.
We remain eternally grateful to Shulamit for opening up her life to us and sharing so that others may understand and learn from her experience.