On Thursday night I had the honor of moderating the Boston Jewish Film Festival's annual "Works in Progress" event -- an evening that gives supporters of the festival a chance to see portions of an unfinished film and talk with the filmmakers about the creative process. The film this year, "Leap of Faith,'' is a documentary centering on an unusual subject -- Christians who convert to Orthodox Judaism. The filmmakers, Stephen Friedman and Tony Benjamin, are both Orthodox Jews, and career admen, who are married to converts, and they spent the last four years interviewing several dozen would-be-converts before deciding to focus their film on the journeys of four individuals who are considering Orthodox Judaism.
Although for many of us, the most familiar conversion stories are associated with marriage, Friedman and Benjamin chose to focus on people whose interest in Judaism was driven by some kind of spiritual quest that was largely independent of a romantic relationship. Some of the folks they talked with were moving from evangelical Protestantism to Orthodox Judaism -- an unusual journey, to be sure. During the Q&A, the filmmakers largely rejected the psychological explanations for conversion -- the suggestion that people who choose orthodox faiths are seeking to fill some kind of need for structure or rules in their life -- and instead said they came away believing that the would-be converts were animated by a sincere search for some kind of truth. As a religion reporter, I found the subject fascinating -- although faith-changing is the story of American religion these days, I'm always intrigued by people who choose to take on high-demand faiths, like evangelicalism or Islam or Mormonism, and conversion to Orthodox Judaism by non-Jews is not a phenomenon I've encountered at all previously.
The 90-minute film is supposed to be completed soon, and then will likely make the round of festivals as the filmmakers seek to find a way to broadcast it more widely. Stay tuned.
(Photos courtesy of Humble Films.)