Streaming Movies With…
Lady Beverly Cohn
As we all painfully know, going to the movies is a memory from the not so distant past, although it feels like forever ago. In my desire to keep readers informed of films to watch, I have turned to Netflix and Amazon as my sources. Some of them have current release dates, while others have older ones.
The first film, which is streaming on Netflix, falls into the latter category and is titled “One of Us,” a no holds barred documentary feature illuminating the intricate, almost police state of the Hasidic Jews living in Brooklyn. Originally released in 2017, the film was produced and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, former members of that biotic community, and illuminates the severe consequences to anyone wishing to leave the safety of that non-secular “state.”
The story of “One of Us” revolves around three people who endured the relentless psychological abuse that the Community inflicts upon a member wishing to leave that “sanctuary” – Ari Hershkositz, Luzder Twersy, and Etty Ausch, whose story is particularly heartbreaking. As marriages are arranged by parents, with guidance from the rabbis and elders of the Community, she married a man she had only seen a few times. It turned out that her husband was violent to her and abusive to their five children. Despite enormous pressure from her extended family, and the wise men of the Community, Etty had enough and removing her wig to reveal her own hair, as well as changing her style of dressing to a less severe one, she decided to get a divorce and cut ties to that lifestyle. That was not an easy task, as the local courts are stacked in favor of men. The elders of the Community, who rule with an unrelenting iron hand, found lawyers who would side with the Hasidic beliefs. Etty secured a divorce but was now faced with a custody battle. During the trial, she was asked questions that really should have no bearing on her being a good mother, but ranged from the type of clothing she wears down to the color of her stockings. As shocking as it is, it comes as no surprise that she loses custody of her children who are then farmed out to different family members. When asked when she would be allowed to see her children, the judge tells her that she could write to them in six weeks. Eventually, she is allowed visiting rights and leaves them with “Continue to be awesome you.”
Ari was a victim of sexual abuse that the Community conspired to cover up. He tried to mitigate the trauma of those experiences by turning to cocaine and actually overdosed twice. His family sent him to rehab at Lifeskills of South Florida, but he slipped more than once. At the time of this filming, he was clean and sober and was taking it “one day at a time.” Ari was astonished that when he got a short haircut and cut off his payos – the curls that hang down from each side of the temple – friends who had known him since childhood, shunned him. It’s as if you are either with us or you’re against us. In one really heart-wrenching scene, he calls his mother to say that he cut his hair and will no longer be religious. After a long pause, she says, “Ok” and doesn’t speak to him again for almost a year. Another issue was lack of a general education. Studies are primarily limited to the teachings of the Torah so that basic skills such as math are underdeveloped.
Like the others, Luzer came to the understanding that he could no longer live under the draconian rules of the Community. He secured a divorce, left his wife and children, and moved to California to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Living in a trailer, he supports himself as an Uber driver. Earlier, while still dressed in the traditional Hasidic garb, he tried to audition as a Hasidic man who acts, but it didn’t quite work out.
Members of the community take care of each other so you are never in need of food if you’re sick, or need financial assistance, or childcare. Those are very seductive perks and from the scenes of women socializing with each other, they appear to be happy. They are all dressed exactly the same, including white head coverings. There are also scenes of crying young women having their beautiful hair cut off to be replaced by wigs. The joy of music and dancing is demonstrated in one scene where dozens of men are circle dancing to lively Kletzmer music as the women watch through a window behind a closed door. Perhaps that speaks volumes.
Recovering Hasidics receive support from ex-Haredi organizations such as Footsteps and the film shows touching scenes of social worker Chani Getti counseling people in their difficult transition. Gone is the Community support and perceived love they received since they were born. Gone are their childhood friends and in some cases, gone also is communication with their parents. But, these three courageous young people were willing to give it all up to follow their own hearts.
Technically, the production values are quite superb. Through almost one-third of the film, cinematographers Jenni Morello and Alex Takats shot the scenes in soft focus and shadows so that you don’t see the principals, but only hear their voices and see only snippets of their entire presence. T. Griffin’s music beautifully augments the ongoing action.
If there is a shred of defense for what is perpetrated against people wishing to live a secular life, it could be in the knowledge that the Hasidic Jewish movement began with survivors of the Holocaust, which witnessed the murder of six million Jews. One can understand the need for a safe, cloistered haven. But still, tyranny by any other name is still tyranny. This Community, which commands that you abide by their unbending set of rules, denies the very freedoms for which the war was fought.
Presented by: Netflix
Production Company: Loki Films
Written & Directed by: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
Producers: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, & Liz F. Mason
Cinematography: Jenni Morello & Alex Takats
Music: T. Griffin
Participants: Ari Hershkositz, Luzder Twersy, Etty Ausch, & Chani Getter
Language: English & Hebrew
Genre: Documentary Feature Film
Running Time: 95 minutes