Rejection of Jewish Orthodox Sexual Abuse Doc by LA Film Festival Sparks Controversy

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival’s rejection of a documentary detailing alleged sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community is sparking controversy, with the film’s producer threatening legal action against the festival’s director.

Producer Scott Rosenfelt, is pushing to sue the director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, Hilary Helstein, who is calling the film a “witch hunt,” wrote YNetNews, according to JTA. Rosenfelt, the producer of “Standing Silent,” is widely known for the movies “Home Alone” and “Mystic Pizza.” “Standing Silent” is a film documenting the issue of sexual abuse in Baltimore’s Orthodox community. The festival rejected the film, said YNetNews.

Despite being rejected at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, “Standing Silent” is scheduled for filming at a number of Jewish film festivals across the United States, said YNetNews.

The report indicates that, after watching the film, Helstein contacted several other Jewish film festival directors, advising them via email, to say that while “Standing Silent is a well-made film, her festival’s team opted to reject the film over its subject matter. “Our committee felt … the film was a ‘witch hunt.’ We all show different things and each community has a different level of tolerance,” she wrote. “Our committee felt that a community that reveres its rabbis, this was not something they wanted to show. I just wanted to put a warning sticker on this one so that you are aware,” she added, according to YNetNews.

Rosenfelt said the email was “the most unprofessional act” he has seen professionally. “The idea that a festival director would go behind the back of a filmmaker and do this gives me great pause to ever recommend your festival to anyone,” his email to Helstein stated, according to the JTA, said YNetNews. “As you know, I’ve produced films … so I know a couple of people in the business. I plan on letting EVERYONE I know to stay away from you and your festival, because you are clearly not someone who supports filmmakers,” Rosenfelt added.

Rosenfelt also described Helstein as “a disgrace to Judaism, and not only that, a disgrace to all humanity” and told the JTA that Helstein “was complicit in the kind of silence surrounding sexual abuse that his film aims to combat,” wrote YNetNews.

According to the report, Helstein refused to comment, but did quote festival chairman, John Fishel, who said the decision against screening “Standing Silent” was made by a small volunteer group on the selection committee, who “did not feel the film was appropriate to screen and worried that it would provoke controversy that would overshadow the film itself,” said YNetNews. Fishel denied Helstein was impacted by the festival’s small, conservative group of donors.

We’ve long been writing about the issue of sex abuse cases in the close-knit ultra-orthodox Jewish communities nationwide, recently writing that the Brooklyn district attorney was facing heat over his handling of sex abuse cases and describing a number of cases of apparent sex crime cover-ups. As we’ve said, convincing child sex abuse victims to speak is difficult in the ultra-orthodox community because rabbis enforce a rule against reporting fellow Jews to secular authorities. Defying the rabbis can result in families becoming outcasts, ruining prospects for marriage or running businesses.

The matter began gaining attention in the mid-2000s when rabbis adopted a practice of denial that molesters exist in their community and crimes are covered up. Advocates and blogs brought attention to the matter, forcing the community’s religious leaders to cooperate with law enforcement. Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, has been criticized by advocates for not handling the matter. For instance, we recently wrote that Hynes refused to name the orthodox Jewish child sex abuse suspects arrested or charged in the highly successful Kol Tzedek initiative that led to 85 arrests. Kol Tzedek was initiated to help abuse victims in the ultra-orthodox community report the crimes to secular law enforcement.

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