A day before Lag b’Omer, a religious couple leaves for Mount Meron for their only son’s third birthday upsherin (Jewish boys’ first haircut marking the start of his formal education.) The father Yoni (Ohad Knoller), is driving the car while the mother Yael (Hani Furstenberg) and her son Yiftach sit in the back, on their way to the traditional Lag b’Omer festivities on the mountain.
At first glance, the film "Halake" (“Upsherin"), which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival on Tuesday, is irritating. It’s irritating to see how Yoni’s belief overpowers his wife and son, and how he becomes impervious. At times it seems as if the phylacteries he puts on aren’t much different than horse blinders: Looking neither left nor right, but only straight ahead. No doubting or thinking.
The idea of going to Mount Meron was Yoni's, a “religious-light” believer turned fervent Breslav Hasid. His wife Yael is not a partner to his growing faith, staying true to her “kippah seruga” (crocheted yarmulke) conservative upbringing.
Her husband’s transformation causes her to distance herself from him and his religious principles, which are foreign to her. The unrest characterizing the parents’ relationship becomes a battle over the curls and soul of little Yiftach.
Director Avigail Sperber is somewhat familiar with this situation from her own life. “As someone living with a non-religious and a non-believer, this conflict is well-known to me,” she told Ynet. “It feels like the religious cannot give up anything – often times forcing the one with lesser faith to make compromises, which is very frustrating.”
But the film also explores the legitimacy of those compromises: When one of the partners is secular, it is almost obvious that the latter will be the compromiser. Not because his principles are less important but because a religious man cannot compromise on certain things. For example, he cannot keep kosher only half of the week, for equality’s sake. But what happens when both partners are religious? Should one type of observance, say, national-religious, bow down to another, say haredi?
When an secular-born person stays away from Judaism due to religious fanaticism, it’s sad. But when an religious-born person like Yael moves away from God, it’s a tragedy. The film poignantly portrays this tragedy, by keeping the husband’s God present throughout, while the wife is left Godless.
“I don’t feel like Yael is devoid of God, says Shperber. “Yael is a religious, fateful woman who cared about having a religious partner and home, but when he (Yoni) becomes so fanatic – it distances her and makes it hard for her to feel affinity towards religion, which all of a sudden weighs so heavily on her life.”
Sperber is a graduate of the Maale Film School and the Idit Schori Scriptwriting School. This is her first TV drama as a director.