A doc­u­men­tary helped me rec­on­cile with my fam­ily

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FILM STEPHEN APPLEBAUM

SAAR MAOZ sounds like a man who’s had a weight lifted from his shoul­ders. The sub­ject of Tomer and Barak Hey­mann’s doc­u­men­tary, Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, Maoz lives with HIV, but no longer wor­ries about what his fam­ily and the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity he grew up in think about his sex­u­al­ity and con­di­tion.

It was dif­fer­ent when Maoz, 44, was 14, and re­alised he wasn’t at­tracted to girls. The el­dest of seven si­b­lings liv­ing on a re­li­gious kib­butz, Sde Eliyahu, in north­ern Is­rael, he was ter­ri­fied of com­ing out.

“My big fear was my fam­ily would kick me out, or the kib­butz would kick me out, and I wouldn’t be able to stay around my friends, my fam­ily.

It was a very scary thought. So how

I dealt with it was to hide it.” He

Saar Maoz kept his se­cret for five years, “and grad­u­ally got more de­pressed. To ev­ery­body I was a very friendly teenager. But I spent a lot of time in my room, cry­ing.”

Re­li­gion of­fered no com­fort. “There is an age where it’s all like Seder nights and can­dles and nice songs, and then at some point it starts to limit you. That’s how I ex­pe­ri­enced it.” The kib­butz (“Imag­ine a small coun­try with a fence around it”) de­manded con­form­ity. Maoz was even­tu­ally ex­pelled,

not be­cause of his sex­u­al­ity — “I was kicked out be­cause I did not keep Shab­bat.”

While he was still at the kib­butz, his mother dis­cov­ered he was gay. In the film, she de­scribes it as “a cri­sis… There were el­e­ments of grief, one of which was anger. . . In a re­li­gious so­ci­ety it’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able.”

She was “dis­gusted by the thought of what two men do to­gether”, and sad­dened by the idea that her son wouldn’t have chil­dren. “Part of the big ar­gu­ment,” Maoz tells me, “[also] was that I kept it from her for five years.” His fa­ther, an army of­fi­cer, laughed and told him: “Take two pills and it will pass.” At the time, an ideal Is­raeli man would “work the land and to make sure we had a coun­try”, says Maoz. “There was a lot of ho­mo­pho­bia.”

He asked him­self many ques­tions. “Who am I? Why am I not like ev­ery­body else? How can I de­sign my own iden­tity in a way that I am proud­ofmy­self?”

He vis­ited Lon­don af­ter army ser­vice as a para­trooper, and was “charmed” by what he found. “I just wanted to be free.”

He found love with a man, which he thought would last for­ever. But when the re­la­tion­ship ended af­ter three years, Maoz spi­ralled into a reck­less life of un­safe sex and drugs, that ended with his con­tract­ing HIV, mak­ing his re­la­tion­ship with his fam­ily even more dif­fi­cult.

For years, Tomer Hey­mann had wanted to make a film about Maoz, but he’d al­ways re­fused. By 2011, though, Maoz had built a se­cure net­work of friends in Lon­don, ac­quired an al­ter­na­tive fam­ily as a mem­ber of the Lon­don Gay Men’s Chorus, and fi­nally felt the time was right. The re­sult is a com­pas­sion­ate study of a fam­ily striv­ing to over­come their prej­u­dice and pain, in en­coun­ters that are raw and painfully hon­est, but al­ways un­der­scored by love.

“I think we were all at the point where we were ready to say the things that there was to say,” Maoz sug­gests. “But I also think if we’d had any idea what it’d bring out, then maybe we wouldn’t have done it.”

To the film-mak­ers’ sur­prise, Maoz de­cided to move back to Is­rael, giv­ing them an un­ex­pected end­ing. He wanted to be close to his nephew and nieces (his hope for kids of his own was thwarted when he con­tracted HIV), he says, and to do some­thing mean­ing­ful with his life.

Join­ing the Is­rael AIDS Task Force al­lowed him to re­turn on his own terms, and gave him a “mas­sive boost” be­cause of their work’s so­cial sig­nif­i­cance. This doesn’t mean go­ing back has been easy.

“But I had been in Eng­land for 18 years, watching things in Is­rael, and say­ing, ‘this is good, this is not good,’ and pass­ing com­ment. And I thought: ‘If you want to change your coun­try, then you have to be in your coun­try.’”

‘Who’s Gonna Love You Now’ goes on gen­eral re­lease on April 7

I thought I’d be thrown out for be­ing gay’


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