The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
In January of 2013 I came across an article in the Jewish Daily Forward that read: “The strongest girl in the world is an Orthodox Jewish 10-year-old from Fair Lawn, N.J.” As a documentary filmmaker, I’m always on the lookout for good stories but this immediately grabbed my attention and intrigued me. After further research, I learned that this 10-year-old girl, Naomi Kutin, had beat out adult woman four times her age to set an all-time powerlifting world record in the 97 lbs weight class by squatting 215 pounds. I’m not a weightlifter myself but I can do simple arithmetic and I know that lifting more than double your bodyweight is no joke.
But what fascinated me more than the fact that this little girl had superhuman strength, was the fact that she was even powerlifting at all. To me, “Orthodox Jewish girl powerlifter” was an oxymoron and frankly unfathomable. While I’m not a weightlifter, I am Jewish, although not Orthodox. From my knowledge of Jewish law, I didn’t understand how an Orthodox Jewish girl could be competing in the male-dominated sport of powerlifting, particularly because of the dress code requirements (powerlifters must wear a formfitting wrestling singlet when competing). While I didn’t quite comprehend how this was possible, I found it awe-inspiring and was compelled to dig deeper and explore what life actually looked like for this barrier-breaking young girl. Thus, I embarked on making my first feature-length documentary film, SUPERGIRL.
The film follows Naomi over the course of three years, from age eleven to fourteen. During that time period, I documented multiple powerlifting contests, her Bat Mitzvah, and the trials and tribulations of both a child star athlete and a typical adolescent Jewish girl. In the process of making this documentary, I had the incredible opportunity to watch her grow into a strong young woman, and that experience is observed through the film as well.
World record-holding powerlifter or not, everyone can relate to the growing pains of adolescence, and I found myself identifying with some of the things Naomi was going through while we were filming. One particular struggle that really resonated with me personally was that Naomi has received a lot of judgmental and outright nasty comments on her powerlifting videos online. I grew up playing sports and have always had a fairly muscular build. Around the time I was about Naomi’s age, I began to notice people making off-hand comments about my body and over time it made me feel self-conscious, different, and insecure. I wanted to play sports but I also wanted to “fit in” and be perceived as “feminine.” Research shows that when girls in particular go through puberty, their self-image becomes very poor and their confidence in their self and their abilities drops significantly. This is a sad but true fact.
Naomi’s story is remarkable because she defies those statistics and stereotypes. I strongly believe that it’s essential for this film to be made and viewed by people around the world because we need to see more positive female role models who break limiting gender stereotypes. It’s not only important for young women to see films such as SUPERGIRL so that they can feel inspired and empowered but it’s crucial that the film is put out into the world to influence the larger conversation and help change societal and cultural views on what is considered “acceptable” for women.
After over three years of dedicating myself to making this film, it is very close to being completed and we are in the final stages of post-production. However, in order to finish the film I need to raise additional funds. If you also believe that SUPERGIRL is an important and timely story that needs to be seen, please take a moment and consider clicking here and supporting the film on Kickstarter. Any amount that you’re able to donate will help get the film made and ultimately help change gender norms.