Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
“One of Us” is a heartbreaking documentary that follows ex-Hasidic Jews who are attempting to live a normal life after leaving their religious community. The Netflix Original peers into the lives of three individuals from Brooklyn, New York, and successfully depicts the emotional trauma they went through during, and after, their transition into the secular world.
The directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, seemed to make a significant effort revealing to the audience the almost cult-like lifestyle of Hasidism, and the terrors the strict religion has brought upon the film’s subjects.
The film begins with Etty, an ex-Hasidic single mom attempting to divorce her abusive husband and gain custody of her kids. The documentary seemed to describe and follow her perspective on growing up Hasidic the most. At the age of 18, Etty was forced to get married. Her whole adult life was devoted to being a mother and a wife, which she prepared for during her childhood. The camera follows her to court dates for the custody of her kids, and to her ex-Hasidic support group, Footsteps.
Etty’s face is never shown in the first half of the film, but is revealed to the audience after she gives a monologue on her desperation to stop hiding and to stand up to the oppressive Hasidic culture she has faced. At this point, she also removes her wig to show her real hair and her real self. This climax of Etty’s story grasps at the audience members’ hearts and illustrates the self-suppression that most Hasidic Jews go through.
“One of Us” effectively switches between each of the three subjects. Ari, the second subject, talks mainly about the isolation he suffers after his transition into the secular world. His new life gives him the freedoms to learn things that most secular people take for granted. Wikipedia was a “gift from God” to Ari. He spent hours learning how to use the internet and how to do basic math and other subjects that he was never able to learn in his Hasidic schools.
However, Ari has suffered from two cocaine overdoses after his secular transition, which shows how apparent the isolation and depression that takes over most ex-Hasidic Jews is. He feels that the new life is worth it, though, as his old life took a larger toll on his emotional state.
The third subject, Luzer, is a struggling actor who moved to Los Angeles, California in order to feel like “just a dude… and less ex-Hasidic.” His love for American pop culture, specifically movies, led him to pick up and leave his community.
“My understanding of the secular world is based on movies,” Luzer said. He explains that the Hasidic Jews have “designed a society where you are unable to make it in the outside world [and] everybody who leaves eventually either comes back, ends up in jail or rehab.”
This Netflix documentary was horrifying, to say the least.
The directors did leave out some other perspectives, like Hasidic Jews who stayed and Hasidic Jews who had once left but then returned to their community. The film, while illustrating a strong message of what Hasidism has done to the three subjects, seems to be attempting to persuade its audience to disapprove of the religion.
Overall, the audience gets a better understanding of the impacts that ex-Hasids face due to the opportunities their community did not allow growing up. The differences between the Hasidic community and the outside world are drastic, and this documentary greatly accomplishes this fact.
Haleigh is a sophomore journalism and art major. She can be contacted at email@example.com.