May 21, 2019

Holocaust Survivors and LGBTQ Grandchildren Connect in ‘Boxes’

From left director Jeremy Borison, Rebecca Katz, producer Shira Steiner and Dr. Shelby Weltz. Photo by Erin Ben-Moche

It may seem strange to say LGBTQ Jews and their Holocaust survivor grandparents have similar experiences. But an intimate short film titled “Boxes” reveals similarities.

“Boxes,” produced by Shira Steiner and directed by Jeremy Borison, made its Los Angeles debut Feb. 26 at an event hosted by JQ International, the Jewish LGBTQ nonprofit, at its West Hollywood headquarters. 

Around 50 people attended the screening, which was followed by a panel discussion with Steiner, Borison, Dr. Shelby Weltz, who holds a master’s degree in Holocaust studies and researches the experience of lesbians in the Orthodox Jewish community, and Rebecca Katz, a founding member of 3G @ LAMOTH, an organization comprising grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors.

The film is based on Steiner’s grandmother’s life, and follows the relationship between a Holocaust survivor and her granddaughter. The grandmother is hiding a secret marriage that took place before the war while her granddaughter is hiding that she is gay. 

Steiner learned about her grandmother’s prior marriage after her grandmother died several years ago, when she discovered the marriage certificate.

Steiner, now 26, never had the chance to come out to her grandmother. In the film, she created a hypothetical scenario in which grandmother and granddaughter shared their secrets. Steiner said doing so provided a voice to many Jewish LGBTQ grandchildren. 

Steiner said the most important thing about the film wasn’t what the secret was, but the build-up of curiosity and wanting to share something difficult to a loved one. 

“It was clear to both of us from the beginning that the film would not solely be a coming-out story for either character, but rather a story about secrets and how we deal with our own,” Borison told the Journal. “Only after making the film did I realize how many people shared the same story as Shira.”

Panelists Weltz and Katz are also grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. They said their grandparents were also not always willing to share their stories. 

“Part of being Jewish and being part of the LGBTQ community, the film shows secrets can do a number on you in so many ways,” Katz said. “I am currently struggling with coming out to my grandmother because I am getting married in June.” 

Weltz, who describes herself as an ally, said that there is a “general perception of fragility among this population,” which is why many grandchildren don’t want to “rock the boat” after [survivors] have been through so much. She added a major reason many religious LGBTQ youth don’t come out is because of their grandparents’ concern with Jewish survival. 

“[The Holocaust] pushed the responsibility” of procreating, she said. “So when we think about gay families, we are not thinking of procreation. We are thinking it’s not possible.” 

Jason Eisner, 26, who attended the event, told the Journal he was grateful that his grandparents gave him their blessing when he came out to them. “A few months ago, I was debating [coming out to my grandparents] and my parents would ask, ‘Why now? They are fragile. What good will it do?’ I told [my grandparents] over Thanksgiving, and it went better than I expected. My grandfather said, ‘OK, I still love you the same as I did 10 minutes ago.’”

“Boxes” will be shown at several upcoming film festivals including the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival, Detroit Jewish Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival and Poland LGBTQ film festival. It will screen in Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m. on March 18 at a private theater in Studio City, followed by a Q-and-A. To RSVP,  email borisonj@gmail.com.