One of Us is a heartbreaking and devastating documentary that takes a look at three people who made the decision to leave their Chasidic communities.
Documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady follow three ex-Chasidic Jews over the course of three years. With their access over that time span, they give us a glimpse at Chasidic Judaism that many communities are not going to be happy with. Not with the amount of abuse that’s been covered up–and there has been cover-ups when it comes to abuse or people escaping to Israel in order to escape the law. These are communities that are somehow outside the law and they shouldn’t be.
When one leaves a Chasidic community and stops being religious, or Off the Derech as it’s known in religious circles, there’s a good chance that they will be disowned by their families. This is where it gets personal for me as a transgender Jewish film critic: I have friends who come from Chasidic backgrounds and when they came out, that was essentially the end of any relationship they had with their family members. Similarly, I can’t go to shul back home again just because I’m transgender. It’s not right at all and I’m glad that the filmmakers decided to do this film and even more so that it’s on Netflix where it’s guaranteed to get an audience.
Some quotes that shine a light on what it’s like in the Chasidic conclaves:
- “I couldn’t Google how to Google.”
- “My excitement of the secular world is based on movies. My idea of the secular world is based on movies.”
In many of these Chasidic communities, people grow up without a secular education. They don’t have television. They can’t watch movies. Worst of all, they don’t have the internet. If one just happens to be LGBTQ, they won’t be able to look up why they feel they way they do. They wouldn’t dare tell their family members, lest they be shunned. There was JONAH back in the day for conversion therapy but anyone sent there was left worse off.
“The three main subjects of One of Us are jumping head first into the unknown,” the directors have said. “Their rocky journey from insular Hasidic Brooklyn out into the secular world – with its emphasis on radical individualism – is fraught with both doubt and exhilaration.”
It’s not a lie for someone to say that the documentary will make you think long and hard because it’s devastating and heartbreaking to watch.
Following the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and a stop at the Hamptons International Film Festival, Netflix made One of Us exclusively available for streaming on October 20, 2017.