What We Should Do About Netflix's "One of Us"

What We Should Do About Netflix’s “One of Us”


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Years ago, as I was boarding a plane in Sydney, Australia (after a whirlwind speaking tour), I saw a very hasidic looking man sit next to a woman who was dressed in typical secular summer-wear, and I thought to myself this will never make the news. All the normal and positive things which come out of the hasidic community go unreported and unacknowledged and are essentially unknown to the outside world (including even the Modern Orthodox world!), while all the extreme and crazy stuff gets mentioned again and again.

Now there’s a reason for this: “normal” is not news and crazy needs to be fixed. Which brings me to Netflix’s new documentary One of Us. I have never lived in the hasidic community, so I can’t say I know it from personal experience. But I have numerous hasidic friends who are happy, normal, open-minded people who live good and fulfilling lives. Their positive experiences do not negate what is shown in this film. The heart-wrenching stories we see are also part of this world.

While it is true that there is dysfunction everywhere, at the end of the day, this is our dysfunction. I don’t know how one community’s dysfunction differs from another in terms of breadth or depth, but that’s not really so relevant. What is relevant is that we must own up to and fix the problems in our midst, wherever we find them. For observant Jews, we believe that we were put here to be a light unto the nations, to be a holy people who bring goodness into the world. That must be the goal of the religious lives we lead or else we have missed the point.

Jew in the City was founded to spread kiddush Hashem and show the positive side of the Orthodox community that goes unreported by traditional media. But what are we to do about the negative side? How do we make negative into kiddush Hashem? My rabbi is a big believer that the greatest kiddush Hashem you can make when it comes to a problem is to acknowledge it and fix it. And that is how we must respond to the pain we see on the screen (and off). I hope that will be our take away from this film.

Besides the media not reporting on the good and happy people of the hasidic world, there is one more part of the story they leave out which is troubling, and I would like to suggest that this be the take away for the media. I’ve been told by some reporters explicitly that they are purposely not telling the stories of the people who leave the ultra-hasidic world and find a new observant Jewish community which fits them better. Just as the Orthodox community cannot ignore the bad, so too the media must not ignore this inconvenient truth. For some people who leave the hasidic community, their happiness is within the Orthodox world – not the secular one.

These are the people of Project Makom, an initiative of Jew in the City which helps former and questioning charedi Jews find their place in Orthodoxy. Their voices also deserve a chance to be heard. Their stories can give hope to those who are struggling to find a place outside of their communities of origin while still being able to enjoy the incredible benefits of observant Jewish communities. These are some of the words of our members who have struggled no less than the people in that film:

Just finished watching the movie. No words. I feel like they were saying my story. Tears. Although I’m pained that it puts a stereotype on the chassidic community as a whole, I feel a tremendous feeling of overwhelming love and compassion for Ari, Etty, and Luzer. It’s not fair though to take their stories and depict that this is everyone’s story in chassidish society. Many have grown up in loving and stable homes and they have no need to change since that kind of lifestyle works for them. My heart bleeds for Etty. I’ve always been raised that the children’s souls are first and foremost and should be taken from the non-religious mom. Ironically, when a chassidic kid goes to rehab they say his mental and emotional state trumps yiddishkeit and they’ll go to the other end of the world to get the best medical care putting his spirituality on the back burner because his life is at stake. How stupid is the judge not to be able to understand that the children’s health and well-being are at stake? I think Etty is an incredible human being and an exceptional mother. The love and sacrifice that she has for her kids is so apparent. She is so strong for her kids. Couldn’t stop the tears at the end. So powerful and courageous. In the non chassidic world where I [now] live, my rabbi stresses that the children should always stay with the mom regardless of her religious observance due to the emotional and mental well-being of the children.

Another Project Makom member wrote:

After watching this movie I felt sad and it bothers me a lot that they focus a lot on the hardships it is challenging but the outcome can be wonderful! Now I am tempted to make a new movie of my own life! It is very hard with a lot of struggles, but life could be so beautiful!  I liked that they spoke about community because it is very important, we are kind of trained to survive with the support of our community, I feel project Makom is my new community a place where I am always accepted and can always ask any question without being judged! I found myself and learning to live the live I yearn for!

We must help fix the problems, but please Netflix, NYTimes, NYPost and every other outlet that has told the typical ex-hasidic story and passed our members over: give our community a voice. They are ready to be heard.

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  1. The problem here is that there’s no right or wrong in this situation, but as an Hasidic Jew it hurts me that someone portrays us, the normal typical Hasidic Jew as some cult following child molester. There are so many normal people in the so called ultra-orthodox community, if you had a bad experience with one of them it doesn’t mean the community as a whole is bad, as a kid in Williamsburg I was beaten by some black kids and had my bike stolen from me in broad daylight, do I think they’re all bad? No! these documentaries are creating the label Ultra-Orthdox = bad guy, dare I to say That all black guys are criminals because of the experience I had with some when I was a kid, we are adults and we know that people are bad regardless of the religion.

    The problem is that we keep on labeling people like ultra-orthodox, OTD or MO orthodox, we should be judged based on who we are as people and not on religious affiliation. It simply hurts to be labeled because some other people who look like me are bad.

    P.s. I know Ari personally, he’s a wonderful person and like me I know a lot of so called ultra-orthodox people who have helped him since he was 15 years old, even after he cut off his Payis I’ve seen him in shul and people where very friendly and accepting. I did not see this being mentioned in the documentary. When he told me 2 years ago about the documentary he helped me reach out to the producers, I offered my help in getting the true side of chasidic jewdaism, but I never received a response. As you said the normal is not interesting.

    P.p.s. What the producer said on the Charlie rose show about the holocaust, is simply disgusting. and untrue, hearing that makes me think that she has an anti-religious agenda. And not simply sharing a sad story.

    Again I’m not taking sides here, I’m simply sharing my pain on how it feels being portrayd by the media, because of what some animals did.

    • Agreed. I think we all feel the same way. I don’t know about the Chassidic community, but my community (non-Chassidic chareidi) is pretty open about our problems and tries it’s best to deal with them. If you tune in to the Motzai Shabbos radio show, they are always discussing different topics that people in the community are struggling with. Whether its molestation, porn addiction, other addictions, abuse, science vs Torah, etc, there is awareness and discussion about causes and solutions. The new fad in the secular media (enthusiastically endorsed by secular Jews) of caricaturing “ultra orthodox” Jews is annoying at best and offensive at worst. It is not authentic and it is obvious that it is agenda driven. It is annoying to many people, because those of us who work with non-Jews have to deal with the new misperceptions that they get when they watch/read ex-Hasidic stories. I end up getting crazy questions. It is not fair that the media, whether it’s CNN’s Reza Aslan show, the NYTs, the daily news, gets to treat us as if we are all a monolithic brain washed oppressed group.
      I recently met a reform woman. She wanted to learn more about Judaism. She didn’t know a thing about her history. Never heard of the five books of Moses. The only thing she knew about Judaism was, as she kept on exclaiming to me “if your an orthodox woman, you must be oppressed.”
      I saw her face when she was exposed to the other side of orthodox Judaism, the side that the media won’t show anyone.
      She was crying.

    • Moshe, what you write about Ari did come through in the film, at least to me. The scene at the wedding reception — where Ari looks a bit out of place yet clearly accepted by those around him — was heart-warming, as were his conversations with the community leader (whose name I forget). I had the same reaction when Luzer encountered his old friend in Monsey and the man was accepting of his lifestyle choice, saying his only wish was for Luzer to be happy.

    • You clearly took a side here. Saying you didnt and then writinv what you wrote is contradictory and manipulative. Adress the problems in your community if you feel so steongly instead of saying “we arent ALL like that.” Take a stand against inequality, bullying, and abuse that happens instead of just distancing yourself from said abuse. Til then, your words are empty.

    • focus_stop BS : December 1, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      You sound like the very reason why such a documentary was needed in the first place. Firstly there is right or wrong. Secondly stop underestimating the intellect and empathy of the film’s audience. Nobody thinks people cannot be happy in the Hassidic community. AND at the same time we all think mothers should not lose their children on the grounds of whether they are wearing leggings or not. If you want a different image for your community stop spreading your bullshit. Stop supporting a violent bully culture.

      I read this somewhere else, may sound familiar to you. Spot on to prove what is wrong with sects, cults and the likes.
      “There is a strong sense of comradeship and we feel an obligation to preserve the integrity and purity of the community. If we get the sense that someone has “betrayed” us, like when a mother cuts off the payes (earlocks) of her children and their estranged father cries “oy vie!” the community will help the father by all means possible.”

    • David Freedman : December 29, 2017 at 9:29 am

      There is right or wrong. A community protecting those who harm others, especially women and children is wrong. End of.

  2. Does Project Makom provide legal services for parents who are fighting with their former communities for custody of their children?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : October 26, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for your question, Eliana. We began case management in January and are up to 85 full members. We build our programing around the needs of our members. So far this issue has not arisen, but if/when it does, we will look into a solution.

      • If Project Makom is not providing all of the services that the formerly Chassidic community needs, then why is it reasonable to expect parallel coverage for Project Makom as Footsteps?Project Makom could not have helped Etty, and is not set up to help someone in a similar situation to Etty, so why is what you do *at all* relevant to Etty’s story? You are discussing two different populations: Etty and her ilk have legal (as well as political) needs that your organization is not addressing, so why are you trying to make her story about people who don’t have her needs?

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : October 26, 2017 at 3:58 pm

          Thanks for your comment, Eliana. If Etty had come to us, we would have worked on a solution. Many of our members were abused, are cut off from their families, have not enough secular ed to make it in the larger world. The comment to the media (two reporters have already reached out to us since I wrote this, btw) is not about this film per se. It’s for ex-hasidic coverage in general to show different directions ex-hasidim go. Some go to Renewal services and some go to Modern Orthodox ones and some become Buddhist. The amount of ex-hasidim who want to find a new observant Jewish group is not a small one and they should be part of the coverage.

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : October 26, 2017 at 3:58 pm

          Thanks for your comment, Eliana. If Etty had come to us, we would have worked on a solution. Many of our members were abused, are cut off from their families, have not enough secular ed to make it in the larger world. The comment to the media (two reporters have already reached out to us since I wrote this, btw) is not about this film per se. It’s for ex-hasidic coverage in general to show different directions ex-hasidim go. Some go to Renewal services and some go to Modern Orthodox ones and some become Buddhist. The amount of ex-hasidim who want to find a new observant Jewish group is not a small one and they should be part of the coverage.

          • Would the terms of your solution for Etty have been “if you remain Orthodox, we’ll help you keep your children, but if you decide to become a Renewal, we won’t help you anymore”? Because if that’s the case, then you’re part of the problem, and not part of the solution.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : October 26, 2017 at 4:30 pm

            Thanks for your question, Eilana. If someone doesn’t want to stay Orthodox, Footsteps has a host of services to offer. But they don’t offer getting into new Orthodox communities and the ex-chasidic community who wanted this choice had nowhere to go. So we built Makom to fill in that gap. Let me clarify something – I am a proud Orthodox Jew. Torah and mitzvos enhance my life. I had a beautiful secular Jewish life as a child and when a father in my school killed my classmate, her bother and himself, I was launched into a deep crisis realizing I would die one day and that there was nothing in my life that would come with. I never in a million years thought the answers might be in the Torah. I hated Orthodox Jews because I only knew them for their problems. Then I met open-minded, educated, non-judgmental Orthodox Jews (and this is not just MO, I have met Jews that fit that description in every community). I saw they had something I was lacking – belief in something bigger than myself. I started JITC so that other Jews who might be struggling for meaning would know that you don’t have to become a rock throwing abuse-covering up extremist to be Orthodox. You can be a productive member of society and live life with more spirituality. The thing about Makom is that the message I was trying to get out to non-Orthodox Jews (who had been judging my for my ridiculous decision) got to unhappy charedi Jews. And they approached us to find out how to live an observant but open-minded life. So while this is meaningful to me – I don’t get to choose how other adults live. I want every Jew to know what’s out there, but ultimately, everyone gets to choose their own path in life. At least I hope they do. So back to Etty – our mission statement is to help former and questioning charedi Jews who want to find their place in Orthodoxy. If Etty wanted what we offer, we would have gladly helped. If she said she no longer wanted to explore Orthodoxy and wants to go OTD (and this has happened) we would say “Good luck. We’re here if you ever need us.”

  3. Yasher Koach, Allison! What I admire about you (and this article) is instead of heaping out criticism about “look how bad this or that community is”, you’re focusing on reality. And actively helping a certain segment of the population who want to navigate from their Chassidishe enclaves. I’m in the midst of a long winded thread on Facebook with a whole group of people who presume this film is “Daas Torah” about Chassidim, and they’re accusing me of “white washing” these situations. I just posted a link to this article and told them that instead of just preaching to the choir and blaming people they don’t even know, they can roll up their sleeves and help people. Like you, I don’t live in a Chassidic community, and wouldn’t want to personally. But there are so many good people in those communities that how can one presume some bad apples are the whole bunch? Aren’t we, as Jews, supposed to look for the good in people?

  4. Why don’t you be your communities voice? Why is that the medias reaponsibility? You want people to know the good in your community? Tell them. This documentary wasn’t meant to portray the good. Clearly.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : November 3, 2017 at 9:21 am

      Thanks for your comment, Katie. We are talking about our community. They didn’t need to be in this film, per se, it’s more that when the media covers the ex-hasidic phenomenon, our people should be part of the larger story. They have gone through nearly every struggle you saw in this film, but in the end they chose to stay observant. It’s not a small group that is doing this. It’s a sizable portion of those who leave struggle very hard to find a new place to join. And not sharing the full story is not the best journalism. And I have been told by reporters that they don’t agree with the outcome to stay observant and therefore they won’t include our people.

      • Like other non-jewish posters here, everyone watches a film through their own lens and life experience. For me, it helped me imagine the mindframe switch that has taken place in Ireland as it has moved from Theocracy to almost-Secularism. It made me realise that all communities have their problems, but if we are all accountable to eachother, we can help eachother stay away from the worst of humanity’s behaviour – only if we do not keep our problems secret, as Ireland did. I really felt for this community in particular, as with the horrific things this community endured in the Holocaust, we can see why they would feel the need to protect themselves in an extreme fashion. There were many in Ireland who said the same, due to other oppressions that I will not detail here, which I am of course in no way comparing to the severity of the Holocaust. I also appreciate the sensitivity people feel when their community is being examined, or if you feel it is somehow being judged by people outside it. Many people feel that – every time I hear about the abuse in Irish Catholic institutions, I feel that, and I do empathise with those feelings. However, without exposition, art, documentaries, discussion and honestly facing ourselves in the mirror, change and the protection of young people can not happen. A young man in the film says that he was raped when he was 8 and the people who committed this crime and protected the abuser are all still working with children!!! This fact alone not being investigated is grounds for extreme concern over how this community deals with those who hurt others (with regard to diclosure, reporting and prevention). Also in the film, a woman was stalked going around her business to the point where she believes a collision with a car was a puposeful crime, and a woman calls the police on her abuser, and her women friends and sisters disown her. May this documentary help change to occur so people can be accountable to our shared code of law and may all closed communities gain the courage to face themselves and examine the story that is being reflected back at them. And yes, I still saw many beautiful things about this community in this documentary. The music, the humour, the humanity and of course nearly everyone on Earth craves community and belonging, which many receive from close communities, as Luzar says at the end. The people watching films, however, are generally more nuanced in their veiws than you give them credit for. We can see the wider story that you are concerned that we cannot see. I personally am glad to see that this organisation you run helps people towards a ‘middle ground’ and commend what you do(I hope I understand correctly more or less what you do) and no doubt you have tried to reach out to Ari in the film by now. However, your article makes it sound like you are one of the people trying to shut down discussion and dissent, which is unfortunate as I am not sure that this is your intention. It could even put some of your prospective clients off, especially those who have been hurt or traumatised as a result of being shut down when they criticise community members or ask for justice. These are the kinds of people this film is about. So your organisation was likely not the right step for these people, sadly.

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : February 11, 2018 at 12:37 pm

          Thanks for your comment, M. We are not trying to stop conversation. Most of the people who come to our organization could have or would have gone to Footsteps. All we are trying to offer is another choice. We feel that much of the media does not want our choice to be a choice. We know that for many people the middle ground is a much more healthy place because it gives them some connection to where they come from.

  5. If you only help the “observant,” then you are a hypocrite. Help all of your people, and then I might listen to you. Shalom.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : November 4, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks for your comment, WJ. Our organization was founded because there was a need not being filled. There already is an organization that helps people who don’t want to be religious. There is no need for us to duplicate that work. We created this program because nobody was helping people who wanted to stay religious.

  6. Allison: While I appreciate your desire to fill a void, your comments seem to reflect some ignorance about the problem that women in Etty’s situation face. There are likely (understatement) many people in Etty’s situation that aren’t making a decision to stay vs leave orthodoxy—its not even on their mind when they start the decision to leave their husbands. But do face the daily looks and comments that their neighbors make. Word travels fast across many of these communities and lies about them do spread. I imagine that many can’t even conceive of the question “do I want to remain orthodox,” when they have pressing issues at their doorstep. So, making legal services contingent on orthodoxy does seem to me to be a very taxing and, quite frankly, non-supportive request.

    You mentioned that your organization has not yet had to help with such legal services. I strongly suspect that some of your comments are made out of ignorance on how powerful the community can be, even when the person intends to remain orthodox. I knew of many devastating cases.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : November 19, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      Thanks for your comment, AReader. The people who are coming to us specifically DO want to remain Orthodox. They have self-selected. If people come to us with issues that are more pressing than religion then we refer them to social service organizations. We don’t believe religion is the right thing to worry about if your basic stability is not in place. If and when someone wants to ask questions about Judaism, explore frum communities, then that is the time they we seek us out. There is no need for us to duplicate the work of other orgs. We have established our initiative to specifically serve a population that up until now had no services.

  7. I’m Autumn and African-American and I just watched this film. I just want to say as an outsider to the community, I don’t think this film reflects on the entire Hassidic community as a whole. I just felt for these three people and others like them.

    From the film, I could tell that Ari’s parents cared enough to help him with his addiction. And it said in the film some people are very happy. Please don’t assume the viewer just accepts what’s on screen and isn’t aware of nuance and context. Of course you can’t extrapolate to a whole community the lives of a few within it, but that doesn’t mean the issues brought up in the film aren’t real and should not be addressed. I admire the courage of those folks and honestly hope the best for them.

    And for those who are living wonderful, religious lives, yes, tell your own story! Every story is important. Please assume the viewer will place all stories in context and see the depth, richness, pain, and joy . . . which is life. At least this viewer did.

  8. I understand the saddnest about the negativity this shines on the community but it still stands that this story has happened and what I want to know is what is being done about it? Can we fund lawyers to get Etta’s children back. This could prove to this community that they must abide by some amount of modern law to protect women and children when this happens. It happens in every community but in other communities we have support. I’m heartbroken.

  9. Please note that I am completely making this comment as an outsider looking in, and while I do not understand the entire cultural context of the orthodox community, I feel the need to post this thought.

    Although Ari states that he has only ever disclosed the traumatic rape he experienced as a child to his therapist, he at the same time states that there were other children and members of the community that witnessed this event. As a result, one can imagine that in such an insular environment that word of this tragedy was known to the community. I think an important consideration for the orthodox community would be to evaluate the differences in the ways that Ari is treated versus the way that Etty and Luzar are treated.

    The community brushes over the incident of Ari’s rape, acknowledging yet taking no legal action. They allow Ari to determine his own involvement in the community, whereas in the case of Luzar and Etty, they are almost completely eradicated from the orthodox community. Ari is anvictim to the nonconformimg legal processes of the orthodox community where no action has been taken. Overall, I sense an attitude of “nothing else has been done and we feel guilty for this individual, so we will accept him however he chooses to fit in.”

    Even the rabbi that Ari consults with affirms that he has lost sleep and cries over instances similar to these, yet no enforcement of laws or movement for change is proposed. This was truly disturbing for me to consider. How is this same response in your community not portrayed in the case of Etty, who risks losing her 7 children to her abusive husband? Will the community allow their seven souls to be raped and abused by their father and then do nothing about it, as in the case of Ari? I am so distraught over this. It just isn’t right.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : December 13, 2017 at 8:48 pm

      Thanks for your comment, T. Please note that this is not the ‘Orthodox” community that doesn’t report abusers. This is the dysfunctional part. The practice comes from an ancient concept called “mesirah” which means you can’t give up a Jew to gentile authorities because back in the day, if a Jew was arrested by the non-Jewish authorities, he’d never come back again. The U.S. is a safe and generally fair country. So this practice shouldn’t apply, but for some of the most insular parts of the Orthodox world, they continue to practice this. It is against Jewish law to let a dangerous person run free.

  10. I was deeply moved by this film, One of Us. That a mother should lose custody her minor children to an abusive father, that a young boy is publicly raped by a rabbi at summer camp and that a father should be completely ostracized by his family and friends because he has a crisis of faith is wrong in any place, time, belief system or philosophy. Etty and Ari are victims of serious criminal acts and deserve justice.

    This is not a condemnation of all Hasidic Jews, only of those who would support such immoral and inhumane treatment of their own community members.

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Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.