Oh, Facebook. You’re so full of junk. Tonight my colleague hustled Matt out of the room because she wanted to share something for “just the ladies.” Turns out, it was a GIF she’d seen on Facebook: Name your vagina by using the last movie you watched. Of course, instead of being boring and truthful (and smart and scrolling by without comment), women (and men) are falling over themselves to come up with the best titles they haven’t recently, or ever, seen: No Country For Old Men, Lethal Weapon, Sausage Party. Feel free to take you best shot in the comments section. As for me, well, I couldn’t quite remember the name of the last movie I’d seen – only that it was a documentary on Netflix about Hasidic Jews. I was a little worried.
Turns out the title is quite ordinary: One Of Us. But the watching of it is quite extraordinary. I mean, I really love documentaries that open the door to a world I know little about, and this one definitely does that. The Hasidic Jewish community is insular, secretive, closed. And that’s exactly the way they want it. They believe it’s what keeps them safe. They believe it was the only way they could rebuild after the Holocaust, and maybe they have a point. But what it means today is that the community is strictly guided by “laws” written by old, male rabbis that everyone must adhere to, or be excommunicated by all the friends and family they’ve ever known. The Hasidim live as their ancient peoples lived, and you can imagine that’s not easily accomplished in 2017. Though most sects have their own particular rules, no internet and no TV is usually a no-brainer; they don’t want to be “contaminated” by secular (ie, the rest of us) society.
And don’t even get me started on the oppressive rules for women (instead, let the documentary get started, it’s quite a bit more knowledgeable than I am). One of Us gleans its knowledge from 3 ex-Hasidim who have left the community with varying degrees of success. A young woman left her abusive husband but the community won’t let her children escape with her. One man dreamed of being an actor and left for L.A., and hasn’t seen his kids since either. Another, much younger, is struggling to find acceptance in a world he knows virtually nothing about. The very existence of Wikipedia was a watershed moment for him.
The film will make you shake with rage and empathy. The courage to leave, and then to come forward, must be abundant. The consequence is ostracism of course, but there are darker threats too. Made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of another favourite, must-see documentary, Jesus Camp, there’s a lot of truth uncovered here. There are still some questions left unanswered though: why are these crazy unfair Orthodox courts even legal? I get religious freedom and cultural sensitivity, but what about keeping kids safe?
One of Us is well made, with well-chosen subjects. It tries to be fair and open, but mostly it just tries to engage us, the viewers, and it definitely, definitely succeeds.