The brilliance and horror of “One of Us” is that its subjects are depicted so vividly that it could have been any type of massive institution that trifled them. Their stories sound familiar, like those of anyone who is a former member of Scientology, fraternity/sorority or any organization that operates on groupthink. It just so happens that the institution we’re talking about now is Ultra Orthodox Judaism.
That isn’t to say that Orthodox Judaism and Scientology weigh the same on the scale of evilness. But Orthodox Judaism is a unique institution, highly visible and very small, a group of individuals practicing the same ideologies in the same manner in the same places for hundreds of years. As “One of Us” shows, rebelling against “tradition” and “our way of life” will turn you into a black sheep, where you will likely be ignored, and even harassed or abused.
It’s chilling stuff, and thankfully “One of Us” isn’t afraid to cast a much needed light on society’s ignorance of what happens to highly-religious individuals. If we see a man slap a woman in a crowded street, dozens of people would run up to help her. But if an Ultra Orthodox man were to do the same to his Ultra Orthodox wife, people would be much more ambivalent to help because of the couple’s religious background.
Aside from these tough but necessary abuse questions, the most interesting parts of “One of Us” are when its subjects talk about their difficulties adjusting to the real world after leaving the tribe. Or One man, Luzer, is a charming, aspiring actor, Lyft-driving by day and crashing in an RV by night. Another is a teenager named Ari, who speaks candidly about his lack of knowledge in Math, English or any relevant subject, and the fears for his future. It’s even worse for the women of the movie like Etty, who has been in such a subservient role for all of her life.
The difference between people whom are less Jewish but become more entranced by the religion later in life, vs. the Ultra Orthodox who were born that way, is choice. I can choose to become more religious or less religious or not even be Jewish at all without fear of ostracized. For the subjects of “One of Us,” and for the thousands of more Ultra Orthodox just like them, they didn’t have a choice. That’s the ultimate tragedy that this movie conveys so beautifully.