What does it mean to be no longer ‘One of Us?’ Three people from the strict Hasidic community find out in the new Netflix documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. The two directors are also known for the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp.
One of Us was a heart wrenching watch as it follows Luzer, Ari and Etty over a span of three years.
Luzer says that in his new life he has not lost anyone. This leaves me with a sad feeling as he has just related how he left his family behind and comes from a childhood of abuse. Purposely he does not engage in new relationships. He has built a solid wall of protection around him.
Adolescent Ari struggles with addiction and has discovered Wikipedia as a stand-in for a lack of education. His hand rises hesitantly in an evangelical meeting as he searches for a place to belong.
Etty fights for custody for her seven children. It is a losing battle in a world where men rule and where money buys the lawyers who know all the loopholes in the law. Still she finds comfort in faith and the support of other women.
The feeling of belonging and the need for community to hold us up is so strong that leaving can be paralyzing. In the case of the Hasidic community the percentage of people leaving is only two percent. After watching the documentary, it is not hard to understand why.
Ex-Hasidic members gather around a table for a Jewish celebration. Glasses are filled with wine and voices rise in a mournful but beautiful song. I can’t help but be reminded of my own roots and the a cappella singing of the brothers and sisters in the Brethren church. There is beauty and there is sadness. You can never belong again; for you don’t want to – and yet there is an ache.
One of Us - Trailer
Alexander’s passing read the subject line. Holding the warm coffee cup in both hands I stared at my computer screen as new emails popped one by one into my inbox. I set the mug on my desk and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. The email was from Alexander’s wife. Surely, she didn’t mean…it couldn’t be…had he been sick? For a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, I hesitated and then I clicked to open the email.
“Next time I’m in The Netherlands I’ll look you up” I had written Alexander. When I was visiting family in The Netherlands again he was on my mind. Driving off the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque making my way north I noticed the exit sign for the village he lived in now. I made an excuse - next time - I thought. After all there is always a next opportunity. “I’ll see you,” he’d replied, “until we meet again.” I imagined a broad smile playing on his thin lips, a glisten in his blue eyes as he typed up the words. Always so full of enthusiasm. It would be his last email to me.
My mom went to the funeral and talked to his wife. “We kind of knew,” she said with a certain calm in her voice “we were playing hide-and-seek with each other.” Alexander had been on the waiting list for heart surgery. They even considered getting an operation in Belgium. It was too late and Alexander died in his sleep at age 38. His body so grown that it almost touched the glass of the coffin. A portrait of a smiling Alexander with thick shining curls sat in front of the casket.
Until we meet again Alexander. You were my first love; the one I fell head over heels in love with over a Kenny Marks’ gospel concert. You were my first devastating heartbreak; three months of relentless crying with ABBA ‘The Winner Takes It All’ on repeat on my cassette player. Sometimes I think I see you in a crowd. I catch a glimpse of you in other people’s faces, in the wildflowers you knew by name, in DJs’ voices, a curl in a neck and the naïve enthusiasm of youth missionaries.
Pietje - say Peach-a!