“One of Us” Falls Short

One of Us is the just-released Netflix documentary on the topic of leaving the Haredi sector. Three Haredi “OTD” departees are filmed and interviewed in various stages of their departure. For each of the subjects, we learn about struggles that are typical to departees: a custody battle with her ex, for Etty; assimilating mainstream culture, overcoming drug addiction and finding work, for Ari; overcoming the grief of having abandoned community friends and family, and solidifying his acting career, for Luzer.

The film is particularly moving in its portrayal of Etty, the woman who believes that her ex-haredi husband was physically and verbally abusive to her and is determined that her children not share custody with him. She refuses to “negotiate” with her ex when given the chance, and recruits the aid of Footsteps to legally fight back against her ex’s well-financed and community-backed quest to retain custody of the children and raise them hasidic.

The film does a great job in the pathos department, but falls short in the logos department. It conveys to viewers a good sense of the struggles that departees must endure, and thus evokes empathy for the subjects. But the film does not probe the crux of the matter: What motivates people to leave? How do they adapt? Who are their new friends? What types of jobs/careers do they adopt? How do they manage financially? Is there a network of OTD friends who help one another? It does little or none to address any of such questions that a viewer is apt to have.

Some incidents mentioned by the subjects in the movie beckon elaboration, but none is forthcoming.

I was immensely curious by Etty’s report that she was abused by her ex-husband: “he beat me, yelled at me, embarrassed me, but I never responded; I just had more babies”. Context here is seductively inviting: Where, when and why did he beat you? How did he embarrass you (embarrassment, by definition, requiring such an event to be in the presence of a third party) What did he yell at you about? Did you ask him to hash out disputes calmly? When Etty talks about her ex “hurting the kids” (to which he responds that the law has no control within the community) she is not prompted to elaborate: is it that he used corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool?

Most importantly, the producers/directors should have attempted to get Etty to answer the simple and most obvious question: Does Etty believe that all husbands in the hasidic community “abuse” their wives in the same way that she was abused, or does she believe that her case is an outlier? At one point she mentions her husband’s “controlling behavior” and the mandatory Friday-night sex in one breath. Is that what she means by abuse and control? Is it that her being forced to cut her “beautiful thick black hair” on the day after her wedding is inherently abusive. Or is there something special that happened in her case that doesn’t happen to the thousands of other women who get married every year and are perfectly content with the system?  The answer to these questions holds the key to the correct impression a viewer should have from this film; but, unfortunately, the producers didn’t bother with it, possibly viewing it as outside the scope of their responsibility to simply “tell the story”.

Ari reports that he was exually molested as a child by a member in the community who is still in good standing. Once again, an avalanche of questions started cascading in my mind: Who did it? When and how? Were you hurt by it, physically or psychologically? Did you report it to anyone? If not, why? If yes, was any action taken? These questions are important because they constitute a major factor in Ari’s estrangement from the community. Early in the film Ari tells a friend the reason for shedding his beard and peios is that he “didn’t want to live the lie… I didn’t feel like the person I looked like, so I chose a different path”. Later he talks about “unanswered questions”, and nods when a counselor asks if that is in reference to the existence of God. Nevertheless, later in the film, Ari states that if there was a God, He would have interfered to prevent Ari’s molester from executing his deed, or He would have punished the molester, thus implying that his alleged sexual abuse was a driving force in his decision that there was no God and that the Haredi lifestyle was not worth espousing.

There are some scenes in the movie that are not properly identified. Early in the film there are men dancing on the streets of Borough Park, but no explanation is offered as to what is the occasion. There are scenes of Luzer in his Hasidic hairstyle and garb, from before his transition, that are not properly dated and contextualized. When Luzer points to “here” as the location where he used to watch movies in his car because he couldn’t do so at home, the produces make no effort to identify the place (e.g. neighborhood, city, state). Which brings me to an even more glaring omission: the producers do not identify their subjects’ places of birth, places of marriage (if applicable), sectarian affiliation, and the age at which they departed.

Many of the lacuna that are so vexing to me could have been explained in the subtitles, by prompting the subjects to talk more about them, or by structuring the film within a narrative voiceover that guides the viewer through the film. This latter device for telling a documentary film story is very effective, and I’m confounded as to why producers would eschew it.

Another thing that bothers me is that apart from the Hasidic perspective we glean from the counselor with whom Ari confers, we don’t hear anything directly from the Hasidic side. When you tell a story of leaving something, it would be nice to hear more from the people who created and maintain that “something”, as to why they believe that it is a desirable place to remain in, in opposition to the view taken by the subjects who have decided to leave.

The sombre brooding soundtrack to the film is mysterious to me. It is meant to evoke a Psycho-esque mindset of something ominous and horrific about to happen, but no such event is in the offing in this film.

Finally, let me repeat my criticism mentioned at the outset of this review, because I consider it the film’s biggest shortcoming: I want to learn more about the subjects’ lives. Where do they live? Who are their friends? What kind of work do they do? What are their aspirations in life (other than for the better-established Luzer about whom we know that it’s professional acting, but we still don’t know how successful he is at it)? Do they believe that the Haredi system doesn’t work for themselves only, or is it inherently untenable and unsustainable in the decades to come?

No experts on the topic of Haredism or departure thereof are ever brought on camera to testify.

In conclusion: If you want a movie that is emotionally touching and empathetic, you’ve got it. If you want answers to substantive rational questions about the haredi lifestyle and those who choose to leave it, we will have to continue to wait. The decades-old documentary film “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America” would have to suffice for now.

 

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11 Responses to “One of Us” Falls Short

  1. Berl Baalchov says:

    This blog-post is so repulsive and disgusting: how you can ignore such a major travesty that a mom loses her own SEVEN kids just because she isn’t as religious as her spouse claims to be is so HORRIFIC i cannot stay silent.

    I will try to enumerate some of your falsehoods and argue its truth:

    1. “we learn about struggles that are typical to departees”

    No its not typical to lose SEVEN of your own kids you gave birth to just because you departed fo a society. Yes maybe your argument is that by Hasidim this is Typical but there are plenty of cases like Pearl Reich who didn’t lose their kids. And hopefully Etty will win her appeals process like Chavy Weisberger recently has won as you reported here.

    2. “a custody battle with her ex, for Etty”

    You are wrong again Etty has never ever fought her ex’s custody all she wanted is shared custody with him of her own kids as before. She defended her motherhood as every human has a right. She never tried to take her kids away from their father. And the court has taken it away from him because they wanted them to stay by different moms in the community he can only visit them, and he successfully took away her Etty’s right to visit their kids. .

    3. “[Etty] is determined that her children not share custody with him [her ex]”

    Look above this is a flat out lie. You will pay the price in the other world if not in this world for such a hateful blatant lie.

    4. “[hasidic] community-backed quest to retain custody of the children [to the husbend]”

    No the Hasidic community just fought she should not have any visitation rights to her kids ever! And they got their bloody murderous wish. Only because they have a bloc vote power that the judges and lawmakers get elected by them. This is an abhorrent breach of church and state separation that the upper courts will no question overturn as you reported with the other boro park woman Chavy Weisberger.

    5. “The film falls short in the logos department. [Lacks Logic]”

    You yourself contradicted this at the beginning saying that it shows clearly the struggle of the ex hasidim who lose it all trying to leave the hasidic lifestyle.

    6. ” the film does not probe the crux of the matter: What motivates people to leave? ”

    The film’s crux of the matter is not why they leave. It is only the pain the cost they pay when they leave and this you agreed it shows clearly.

    7. “How do they adapt? Who are their new friends? What types of jobs/careers do they adopt? How do they manage financially? Is there a network of OTD friends who help one another? It does little or none to address any of such questions that a viewer is apt to have.”

    They never adopt as Ari says he never was thought any math, and it shoes in drug rehab as Luzer explains “they designed this system that whoever leaves it ends up in jail or in rehab”, and Etty shows that the best a mom lost all her kids because she chose to leave. You and me would have killed ourselves! She chose to fight on unlike so many others of her friends who we know are dead.

    8. “Some incidents mentioned by the subjects in the movie beg for elaboration, but none is forthcoming.”

    We see 911 call that the wife is protected by the goverment from her husband, we see her bruised face, we see the judge’s statements how she isn’t frum enough as the Taliban and ISIS, (that her stockings isn’t the one that covers it up all the way under the skirt and more), we hear in court how she is spied day and night wherever she goes and those tapes are admissible in the court of law, we see how the husband’s family tried to kill here, we see the dead end in the woods where Luzer saw his movies, we see the camp how and where Ari was abused, we see the heart wrenching Footsteps support workshops. I could not see anymore details my heart couldn’t take it anymore. You are simply lying this movie lacks in substance.

    9. “Another thing that bothers me is that apart from the Hasidic perspective we glean from the counselor with whom Ari confers, we don’t hear anything directly from the Hasidic side.”

    He is an Aguda Spokesman and he apologizes for the whole haredy system that it works for many thousands and many generations we cannot change it all because of a few outcasts he declares. Also Chani Getter gives a steering narrative why they do this to Etty. You may disagree with her, but you cannot say she isn’t answering this horror of taking away kids from parents in the name of god.

    10. “The sombre brooding soundtrack to the film is mysterious to me. It is meant to evoke a Psycho-esque frame of mind of something ominous and horrific about to happen, but no such event is in the offing in this film.”

    You are LYING HERE and denying that the film ends with a major travesty of a mom losing her own SEVEN kids she gave birth to, all because she wasn’t so religious as her husband claimed to be.

    If this isn’t an historic heart wrenching HORRIFIC shocking tragedy. You are a very sick dude! G-d’s speed my friend.

  2. Dovid Zinger says:

    As a close cousin to both of them i must say her family is crying and know they are guilty that they caved to the community pressure.

    As family i can attest that i know Etty and her ex Husbend very intimately and i can tell you she is more religious in reality, than her ex husband. But the courts go with the bloc vote that he bagged early on in the fight, because he had better advisers like all men in our community that know their way outside the home better than our wives, even though we have less of an education but they are confined in the home as of modesty standards.

  3. JasonO says:

    > The film is particularly moving in its portrayal of Etty, the woman who believes that her ex-haredi husband was physically and verbally abusive to her

    “… the woman who believes…” – Nice feint there, subtly casting aspersions on her credibility.

    > I was immensely curious by Etty’s report that she was abused by her ex-husband: “he beat me, yelled at me, embarrassed me, but I never responded; I just had more babies”. Context here is immensely inviting: Where, when and why did he beat you?

    WHy in the world does this matter?! Is there any place or context which makes beating one’s wife excusable?

  4. Chaim Mair Bronner says:

    Thanks for sharing that its clean of all “abuse” details, i understand you like Gossip and Scandal but its not nice to hurt so many people for ur selfish entertainment.

    You say its moving and a superb film you only want more – that is the definition of a “best” film it leaves you thirsty for more.

    Thanks for the Review i now read more reviews from their Facebook page i liked it pls Like their facebook page if you are a hasid like me who cannot watch films so you can as well read all articles about it.

    https://www.facebook.com/oneofusmovie2017/

  5. Leeba Weisberg says:

    This is a 90 minute film and it’s not possible to provide the kind of detail you seem to think is necessary. Furthermore, as viewers we are not owed every detail of these people’s lives given that this is real life, not fiction. It’s a glimpse into their story and their world. You clearly don’t want to believe their stories so instead of just listening you try to tear them apart.

  6. Salsa B says:

    Whoever wrote this article should re-learn the English language. Clear sign of the lack of education in the frum world. Such a sad group

  7. Anon says:

    As a non religious type I find the concept bewildering. I believe there is a God but religion is brought from man and there is the problem. Whereas God is divine ,man is not .Where we see the extremes of anything we find the schism of good and evil. Here it is safe to say that protecting the evil to do what you believe is good is where this film hacks at the religious structure of the Hasidic Jewish community. To each his own is a well used statement but this film shows an outstanding degree of control and abuse of power that in effect is a conspiracy by community to shield themselves from the gaze of a modern altruistic society.

  8. Me says:

    I don’t understand your “laws” really I think they are BS! You people live in the United States of America, regardless of what religion you are, regardless of how many Jews died in the holocaust. You should still have to follow the same basic rules and laws as any other US citizen. AND newsflash EVERY American has RIGHTS! Etty should not have lost her children, this makes no sense to me! Your courts are squirly! Normal courts in America always give the kids to the mom unless there are really serious reasons not to. This custody case should have been resolved in a US court, not a stupid religious one. If you people don’t want to abide by the rules of the US then get the fuck out. You people make me sick! And you complain about Arabs, and yet you act the same or worse!

  9. A Lynn says:

    Who let JACOB GLUCK on the internet to write this review?

  10. Roxanne says:

    It seems like you want to know more about these peoples’ stories so that you can use it against them. You don’t motivated by caring about these fellow humans. You seem to be looking for some justification to punish them.

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