Something was missing from A. Alan Scott’s life. It turned out to be Judaism. A Mormon from Kirkwood, Missouri, he was drawn to it in his 20s and never looked back.
Aliza Rosen’s endearing documentary, Latter Day Jew, partially traces his journey from Christianity to Judaism. It will be screened during the Hannukah Film Festival, which is being presented online by Menemsha Films from November 28 to December 5.
A gay stand-up comedian currently based in Los Angeles, Scott was never a good Mormon, he admits early in the movie. He does not explain why, but confesses that the people with whom he was “obsessed” were all Jewish. He mentions Barbra Streisand, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Nora Ephron.
Rosen omits Scott’s journey toward and actual conversion to Judaism, which occurred several years before she decided to make a film about him. Instead, she draws an impressionistic picture of Scott, an extrovert, introduces us to the people who matter most to him, accompanies him to New York City and Israel, and hovers close by as he prepares for his bar mitzvah.
Scott’s embrace of Judaism was almost upended. After moving to Los Angeles, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Fortunately, he is now in remission. As he observes, cancer deepened his desire for community.
Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Scott aspires to be the “best possible Jew.” His spiritual advisors, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro and Debbie Jaffe, seem impressed by his convictions and sincerity.
In Manhattan, he meets a fellow comedian, Judy Gold, who discusses her attachment to Judaism, and a Mormon couple, Nathan and Rachelle Steiger, who converted to Judaism and now believe they must be “authentically Jewish” because they’re converts.
In the weeks leading up to his bar mitzvah in 2017, when he was 34, Scott speaks to several event planners and visits Israel for the first time, thinking it will help him figure out how to be a “great” Jew.
During the course of his trip, he watches a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, speaks to a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, learns how to blow a shofar, buys a prayer shawl, and meets a vey special woman.
“Everything about Israel made me feel like a Jew,” he says. It gave him a sense of purpose and a feeling he belonged to something greater than himself.
Back in Missouri, he visits his mother, Kathleen, who wonders whether, as a gay man, he will be accepted into the Jewish community.
As his bar mitzvah approaches, Scott’s family arrives in Los Angeles for the ceremony. Savoring his identity as a Jew, he says, “It’s not every day that a Mormon converts to Judaism.”
And he adds, “My soul was always Jewish.”