The Shrinking Jewish Body: A Review of Hungry to be Heard

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July 20, 2010

If you are an Orthodox Jewish teen and suffer from an eating disorder, there are not many venues for you to learn about your pain. You certainly can’t turn to Lifetime Original anorexia movies whose scenes feature exposed whipcord thin legs and arms–these are too explicit for religious eyes. Luckily, Elisheva Diamond, a doctorate student in clinical psychology, with support from the Orthodox Union, finally has filled the void by creating Hungry to be Heard a documentary about anorexia in the Orthodox world.

Hungry to be Heardreveals that eating disorders are not more prevalent in religious circles than secular ones, but that the religious world has to deal with unique pressures that come with living in such cloistered, gossip-driven communities: mainly the one-track fixation with marriage (with the pressures by matchmakers to lose weight) and the Jewish focus on food.

Indeed, many of the subjects in the film found religion at the shoreline of every step of their experience. “Malka” reveals that when she was a kid, she didn’t tell her mother when her shoes were broken because she didn’t want to add to her mother’s stress of taking care of such a large brood of children. When Malka developed an eating disorder, she refused to tell her mother for the same reason. The sole boy in the film, “Moshe,” speaks about the shame of having eating problems in such a food-centric culture. To his parent’s dismay, he played basketball on Shabbas just so that he could get away from all the food at the table.

Despite the intense subject matter, Diamond is no showy dramatist. She doesn’t need doom-and-gloom music or sharp close-ups to tell us how to feel; no, her subjects’ stories can pull tears out of our eyes and down our cheeks on their own right. The opening credits of the film feature “Rachel,” a young woman who is the most sympathetic subject of the film, perhaps because she seems the most inconsolable. “I think I can honestly say this has ruined my life,” Rachel says, chokingly. “There was nobody listening to me. There was no one seeing how much pain I was in. “ Another heartbreaking figure is “Leah” who admits she used to use a toothbrush to help her purge, and once felt such an urgent crucial need to throw up, that she lost grip of the toothbrush and swallowed it.

It might seem unpalatable to suggest that an anorexia documentary would need to have a gimmick. But the truth is that we’ve heard the body image saga all too many times. We, American voyeurs all, love hearing about secluded cultures, so when our own modern social woes seep into these roped-in communities, it makes for an absorbing mix. We keep watching, no matter how hard we attempt to shield our eyes.


Hungry to be Heard was developed by the Young Leadership Cabinet of the Orthodox Union, is a production of Better World Productions Inc., and is available FREE OF CHARGE for distribution as a continuation of the Safe Homes, Safe Schools, Safe Shuls initiative of the Orthodox Union Department of Community Services, which addresses issues impacting upon our community.Please contact Frank Buchweitz, National Director, at 212.613.8188 or by email at for a copy of the DVD as well as possible speakers.

Bishvili for Me: A curriculum created by Hadassah that help raise girls’ self esteem and prevent eating disorders, through Jewish songs, texts, prayers and rituals.

Renfrew Center: The world’s first residential treatment facility for eating disorders—which treats patients of all religious affiliations, and has branches in New York, Florida and Philadelphia—recently set up an “Orthodox tract,” a department of the facility, run by psychologist Esther Altmann, that deals with the specific needs and concerns of observant patients. A message board where religious teens can speak openly and anonymously about difficult issues.

RELIEF: A Jewish mental health agency that has a help line staffed by professionals that can assist patients who suffer from eating disorders to find counseling and medical assistance.

Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: – A book of essays that look at body issues from a Jewish perspective.

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