Monday, September 10, 2012

A Life Apart

What do Leonard Nemoy and Sarah Jessica Parker have in common?  Yes, they are actors.  And in an even wider sense, they are Jewish.  More narrowly, they are both the unlikely narrators of this documentary from the 1990s called A World Apart: Hasidim in America.

The documentary had some interest, and tries to give a balanced account of the Hasidic lifestyle.  There are people who are perfectly happy being Hasidic, and the documentary lovingly portrays them. For a bit of balance, there are people who have run afoul, or away from, Hasidism, and there are given some time.  But the pro-Hasidic viewpoint is given far air.  In the end, the dark side of this movement is little explored.

Simply put: any group the controls cohesiveness must use coercion in some form.  This is primarily done through forming a dependency on the group, making it impossible, or nearly so, for a person to leave (the primary reason being, they can’t make a living on the outside, because of a lack experience and a low level of education).  Abuse and neglect can become common in these types of environments.  Hasidic sects have these problems, but they are only gingerly touched here.

In the end, this is the type of sentimental portrayal of Hasidim that we see all too often.  We need a documentary to show how hard it is to be holy, apart, and "a part" of a group the exercises wide control and demands on its adherents.

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