âDonât you want us there?â an Israeli woman asks her husband in âThe Womenâs Balcony,â a charming exercise in gender politics as experienced via religion. The wife, Ettie (Evelin Hagoel), has just learned that their newly rebuilt Orthodox Jewish synagogue no longer has a separate section for women â which essentially means they have been barred from the gender-segregated services. The slight is a punch in the gut, but it also starts a revolution.
The story begins when the womenâs balcony at the synagogue collapses during the bar mitzvah celebration for Ettieâs grandson. The accident leaves the rabbiâs wife in a coma and the rabbi in a state of shock, which puts the future of the congregation in limbo; rabbis have to supervise repairs. So when the charismatic young Rabbi David comes to their rescue, heâs seen as âan angel from heaven.â Rabbi David may be a good man, but heâs not exactly progressive. His more conservative views and strict reading of scripture soon run afoul of the women of this more moderate congregation, especially Ettie. The growing rift threatens to tear apart a few marriages, but thereâs never really any doubt about the couplesâ eventual reunion, let alone which side will prevail.
Still, Emil Ben-Shimonâs smart direction (tight shots of narrow streets and even narrower dwellings really convey a sense of an insular community) and Shlomit Nehamaâs lighthearted and topical script ensure the proceedings not only hit all the right notes, but also entertain while being respectful of religious traditions. The entire cast is solid, but the women, especially Ms. Hagoel, bring depth to their comedic and dramatic turns. Ettieâs wisdom is never more spot on than when she tells her grandson, âGod gave us minds of our own.â Indeed.