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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that One of Us is a 2017 documentary about the threats, ostracism, and uncertainty faced by three Hasidic Jews who leave their ultra-Orthodox community. There's some graphic talk of sexual abuse, including a young man talking about being raped by his summer camp principal. A woman talks of the physical abuse she suffered from her husband. Another subject finds the hospital admittance form from when he tried to commit suicide. A woman is knocked off her bike after receiving many threats; a photograph shows a close-up of the injuries she sustained. One of the interviewees talks of overdosing on cocaine and is shown in a rehab clinic in Florida. There's some cigarette smoking and vaping. "F--k" and variations are used several times; there's also "s--t" and "a--hole." Overall, this documentary should provoke discussion among families about how strict religious communities with rigid traditions must confront rather than ignore abuse, and find a way to remain true to their faith but not at the expense of basic morality.
What's the story?
ONE OF US follows three Hasidic Jews as they attempt to leave their ultra-Orthodox community. Luzer left his arranged marriage and family to pursue his dream of being an actor and has returned to try to come to grips with his past. Etty leaves her abusive husband and faces the wrath of a community determined to use any means necessary to prevent her from seeing her children. At age 18, Ari leaves to explore the wonders and the dark side of the secular community that had been denied him his entire life. Each of these three struggle with leaving, but also struggle with the rigid orthodoxy and deep denial of the abuse they suffered as they enter a world in which they have no experience, and with painful ostracism upon leaving the only world they know.
Is it any good?
This is a fascinating documentary that explores the clash between the rigid dogma that has sustained a community and an oppression that silences those who have been abused in the community. Made by the directors of Jesus Camp, One of Us explores the challenges in leaving the only community you've ever known. Only two percent of Hasidic Jews leave their community, and this documentary tells the story of the ostracism and even outright hostility faced by three individuals who left. There's a disconnect between a rigid orthodoxy put in place to provide a true community for "survivors built on [the] trauma" of the Holocaust that nearly eradicated the Hasidic Jews, and a community seemingly incapable of responding to allegations of sexual, spousal, and child abuse with anything but silent complicity or hostility to those who try to speak out.
The bravery on display in front of and behind the camera is extraordinary. To face the terrible aftermath and recovery from abuse, and to talk about it, is difficult enough, but to be this open in the face of a closed and insular society that shuns people for doing so is a daily struggle. And the emotion these three reveal in their own struggles provides a glimpse of what future generations will contend with. The documentary leaves just enough hope for us to believe that "the right thing to do" will overcome blind dogma without losing the traditions and way of life that define the community.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the challenges in making a documentary such as One of Us. How do filmmakers build the trust of their subjects so that they can film and discuss their lives in great detail?
What might the counterarguments to this movie be? How is the Hasidic Jewish community and its rigidity and insularity a response to being, as someone in the documentary put it, "survivors of trauma" from their near-extermination in Europe during World War II?
What do you think you would find challenging if you left the only culture you had ever known? How does this movie convey the challenges these three faced upon leaving their community?
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