Elissa Kaplan and Pamala Plastock live a life much like that of many Orthodox Jews, observing Shabbat, following kosher restrictions, keeping holiday traditions.
However, as lesbians, the Highland Park couple, who were legally married in Massachusetts in 2008, remain an anomaly in the Orthodox world.
The two women are among seven Orthodox lesbians from New York and New Jersey featured in the documentary DevOUT, which was screened March 13 by Rutgers Hillel at the George Street Student Activities Center in New Brunswick.
Speaking after the showing of the 37-minute film, Kaplan and Plastock said their local community seems more open-minded than some others in the observant world. While they do not belong to a synagogue, they are accepted at local Orthodox minyans, and Kaplan’s children from a former marriage have been welcomed at a local yeshiva, which they declined to name.
In fact, when the couple decided to hold a civil union ceremony a year and a half ago at Highland Park Borough Hall, Plastock said, they put out the word over an Internet listserv to community members, not knowing what response it would generate.
The end of the ceremony, which is included in the film, shows a room full of people — Rutgers Hillel associate director Rabbi Esther Reed among them — applauding as a judge wishes the couple a “mazel tov” on their union.
The number of people who turned out to celebrate with them “was just amazing,” said Plastock. “Our friends have remained steadfast.”
She said a reception followed at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Highland Park, which is under Orthodox kosher supervision.
While Kaplan acknowledged her community was wonderful, “in terms of religious leadership, it has been more of a process.”
The film, made by two students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, shows other women caught between two worlds, at times estranged from their communities and seeking acceptance and family with each other.
The two young filmmakers are neither lesbian nor Jewish. Diana Neille is a Christian South African; Sana Gulzar is a Muslim from Pakistan. DevOUT has been shown in diverse locales, including last month at Pakistan’s largest film festival.
Kaplan said that her realization that she was a lesbian at first “felt like punishment,” while Plastock said, “I accept this is a sin. I accept Torah said it is wrong.”
However, Plastock said, like all religious Jews she is continually trying to improve her observance of the commandments and has chosen to focus her attention on other areas she can change.
“I believe God gave us the Torah,” said Plastock, adding that she also believes the specific passage condemning homosexuality had been “misinterpreted” by humans.
“I have to believe that,” she explained, “and if not, my hope is for a God who is forgiving.”
Kaplan said she didn’t envision “kiddushin,” the first phase of the marriage process under a huppa, being part of a same-sex ceremony because it is part of a traditional marriage ceremony as defined by Torah.
“Having a ketuba would also not be appropriate, but perhaps a different kind of contract,” she said. Acknowledging her apprehensions about coming out, Kaplan added, “I’ve been surprised every step of the way.”