The Women's Balcony

(Ismach Hatani)

‘Don’t you want us there?’ an Israeli woman asks her husband in The Women’s Balcony, 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 section for women – 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.

Poster for the ensemble comedy The Women's BalconyThe story begins when the women’s balcony at the synagogue collapses during the bar mitzvah celebration for Ettie’s grandson. The accident leaves the rabbi’s wife in a coma and the rabbi in a state of shock, which puts the future of the congregation in limbo. So when the charismatic young Rabbi David comes to the rescue, he’s seen as ‘an angel from heaven’. Rabbi David may be a good man, but he’s 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.

Emil Ben-Shimon’s smart direction (tight shots of narrow streets and even narrower dwellings convey a sense of an insular community) and Shlomit Nehama’s 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. Ettie’s wisdom is never more spot on than when she tells her grandson, ‘God gave us minds of our own.’ Indeed.

– Nicole Herrington, The New York Times