“Treyf” examines the relationship Alisa Lebow and Cynthia Madansky have with each other, Judaism, their heritage, and Israel. Lebow and Madansky met during a Passover seder in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout the documentary they explore their connection to Queerness and Judaism through footage of the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Jerusalem, synagogues, and their home.
A major theme of the film is the concept of “treyf”. It is a Yiddish term that means either food that is not kosher or person who is an abomination. While Alisa refuses to eat treyf food, Cynthia takes a pleasure in defying tradition and the way she was brought up. They are both secular Jews, so the choice is more about culture and personality than religion.
The women disagree with each other about almost every aspect of the documentary. While Alisa lived in Israel and still has fondness for it, Cynthia seems completely done with it. Cynthia has an obsession with the ultra-orthodoxy, which Alisa thinks of as an exotification. They grew up with a shared culture, but through their sexuality grew apart from it in different ways.
Despite the arguments, they make it clear that they come from the same place and are still tightly bound to the Jewish community and the lesbian community. By showing both of their perspectives, and by interviewing dozens of other queer Jewish women, Treyf manages to capture the way both communities affect who they are as people and the way they see themselves in the world. Even though there are different forms of Judaism, and different expressions of queerness, there is also a shared understanding, although it is by no means uncomplicated.
For further reading, see Alisa Lebow’s thoughts on the creation of the documentary in her book, First Person Jewish (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
Lisa Yelsey Class of 2013