One of Seven is a fascinating journey of journalist and film critic Goel Pinto’s life stations. Goel, born to an Oriental religious family, ‘one of seven’ children, in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. Going back to his childhood memories, the director, along with his mother Monique, peel off the layers of his past, in order to get to the root of the lack of identity that accompanies him, he tries to reconcile the different elements that shape his being: religion, ethnicity, homosexuality and the memory of the holocaust.
“I came here to ask you … Of your seven children, am I the most screwed up?” Goel Pinto asks his mother in her kitchen after a montage of photos appears on screen.
So begins “One of Seven,” an Israeli documentary that played at the Boston Jewish Film Festival this year by Pinto, a gay and Sephardic Israeli Jew.
Pinto explores how and why he doesn’t belong to what he calls the mainstream discourse of Israeli society. He also searches for a place of belonging as he tries to reconcile his two scorned statuses in Israeli society and the religious community of Bnei Brak.
In this illuminating documentary about Pinto’s life and Israeli culture, Pinto interviews his brother Emanuel and his sister Eva, and he takes a walk down memory lane with his mother, Monique, as he discusses how he was excluded from the mainstream at each step of his life.
Pinto questions — and answers — why there’s intolerance within the Bnei Brak community, its yeshivas and the general Israeli population towards Sephardic Jewry. To clarify, Sephardic Jews are Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula before Spanish expulsion, and who were forced to move to other places such as Algeria — where Pinto’s family lived before immigrating to Israel.
The director portrays Sephardis as victims of Ashkenazic intolerance dating back to post-Holocaust Israel. As he presents it, Israeli Ashkenazis marginalized Sephardis because Sephardic Jews didn’t suffer as greatly during the Holocaust and, therefore, were entitled to less, according to the Ashkenazis. It’s a very hard concept to understand, but Pinto’s mother sums it up: “In a war,” she says, “there are no winners.”
Pinto highlights the Holocaust stories from North Africa, specifically his family’s history in Algeria. Pinto’s great-aunt was taken to the gas chambers of the Auschwitz death camp, along with more than 700 other North African Jews.
Instead of telling stories of victimization during this time period, Pinto’s mother explains that Algerian and Sephardic Jews of North Africa would speak of heroic tales and accounts. It was a point of pride that this cross-section of Jewish culture did not even speak of how they were forcibly taken to camps only to be killed.
From the time that Pinto’s family ascended to Israel, it was quite clear what it meant to be Sephardic in Israel to Pinto’s mother. Emanuel, or “Manu,” recounts how he experienced humiliation and discrimination based solely on his heritage. Manu remembers the first time he stepped foot into a yeshiva in Bnei Brak, where a man called him a derogatory name the moment he walked in.
While Pinto renders the difficulties of being Sephardic in Israel throughout the movie, he also emphasizes that he, unlike his other siblings, lived an even more complicated life because he was a gay man. However, Pinto renders his unique struggles with far less detail and eloquence.
In his film, Pinto says that Bnei Brak’s yeshiva taught him to uphold heteronormative values above all else. He knew that he didn’t fit in — as did the other boys in his school who would beat him up on a daily basis.
As a result, Pinto went the largest distance that any man could go to prove his straightness — he married a woman. Their union ended eight months later, when it became very clear that he was gay. In his depiction of the religious community of Bnei Brak, homosexuality is neither tolerated nor discussed — much less recognized as legitimate.
The most heartbreaking aspect of “One of Seven” lies in Pinto’s relationship with his ultra-religious father. His father, who the audience understands is afflicted with an unnamed disease, lives in a hospital and has yet to discover that his son is gay. Until the documentary was made, Pinto hadn’t seen his father for 10 years. It seems clear by the end of the movie that Pinto won’t visit his father again.
While the story features a number of tragic moments, it captures a true picture of what it means — to Pinto, at least — to be both gay and Sephardic in Israel today. Viewers will occasionally question where Pinto is going with the film, but he ties together all loose ends by the final credits. “One of Seven” is not a story about one big happy family — it’s true to life, and no family is perfect. (Alex Kaufman, The Tufts Daily)