Last night I had occasion to see Netflix's new movie "One of Us". This movie follows fragments in the lives of a few individuals who have left the Chasidic Satmar community in the United States.
I am writing this from the viewpoint of an Orthodox woman (although not chasidic), who is the mother of four children who have "left the 'derech' (path)" of Orthodoxy. I will add that I have an excellent connection with these children, as good as I have with my religious ones. This doesn't mean that I always agree with them, but occasionally I disagree with all of my children.
First I must mention that I have absolutely no knowledge of the families/cases/ incidences portrayed in the movie, or any deep knowledge of the community involved. I HAVE seen how the community here has reacted to children "leaving the fold", reactions which can be quite diverse.
[Photo: two of my children, quite diverse, but who love each other despite it all....]
I was happy to see that the director did allow some coverage of community members who apparently were open-hearted enough to befriend the subjects, realizing the underlying pain there. On the other side, we do see incidences of apparent violence directed against a woman who had claimed abuse from her husband.
Unfortunately, in every religious group there are people who are not living up to the ideals of the community. Every community has its rapists, child-molestors, and peodopiles. Yet this is NO reason to condone it. However, Orthodox Judaism and chassidut is a FAR cry from cult-like groups such as that run by Warren Jeffs and his ilk. (Even if the dress of the women may at first appear similar. )
Unfortunately, there ARE those who take advantage of the groups reluctance to involve the police, the tendency of people to blame the victims, etc. And rarely there ARE women who may falsely accuse men of certain acts, if it seems expediant to do so- for reasons of financial gain, political expediency, custody battles, or perhaps revenge.... Yes, there are two sides to every coin, and unless there is some type of coaberating evidence, it may often boil down to his word against hers.
And as much as outsiders often cannot fathom the mindset of arranged marriages, the system does work in general... and I suspect that the rate of satisfaction and happiness in such marriages is no less then those in the general population. Yes, there ARE cases where young women were coerced into marriages by parents who did not have their daughter's best interests at heart- but these are few and far between. Most parents are committed to finding a spouse who is not only fitting religiously for their child, but fitting their personality, and dreams as well.
All that being said, there are problems of abuse in the community that need addressing. Part of the Orthodox world have started addressing these problems, although these efforts are not nearly enough (something shared, incidentally, by the secular world). How much of these efforts have filtered into the more closed community of Satmar, I do not know. What I would have liked to see in the movie "One of Us" would be some exploration of these topics.
Another thing that needs noting is the high rate of drug abuse and poor job opportunities for those dropping out of the community, and indeed in some cases, for those in the community. These problems are also being dealt with to some degree in parts of the orthodox world, although probably less so in the more closed community of Satmar.
Much of this all boils down to a cultural battle between those realizing that the world has changed, and we must adapt carefully to those changes, in order to preserve our underlying values, and those who believe that the only way to deal with society's headlong pursuit of hedonism (like lemmings running into the sea) is to detach themselves from it as much as possible.
Quite frankly, there is what to say for both sides of the argument. For example, I use the internet, knowing that I have no desire to use it for sexual purposes- I use it, theoretically at least, solely for staying in contact with my non-religious children, to stay informed about various things (wikipedia, "how-to" articles,and the like), and for weight-loss support. However, I have gradually seen a slipping lately into using it as a source of entertainment, and I am as likely to watch a movie today as to pick up a book. And this I am realizing needs to change... too much time online is definitely anti-family, and the often warped values of secular society impregnate every inch of the entertainment industry. Yet I find tearing myself away from the screen extremely difficult. It is indeed a mud puddle with quicksand propensities.
Where do we draw the lines between educating our children enough so that they can work as something more than a clerk at Target... and embracing the vulgarities of secular culture? How much do we need to protect ourselves as a community vrs being confident enough that if a potential Torah scholar is exposed to the opportunity to use his intellect in other ways, he will still chose to remain a Torah scholar because of the beauty of Torah? How do we promote acceptance of individuals who are NOT cut out to stay in Kollel for life, and retain them as valued members of the community, while not making children of Torah scholars feel left behind compared to their richer classmates whose fathers are professionals? These are all areas that need discussion, and sadly the Orthodox community will probably often have divisions within due to discussions and conflicts along these lines.
Re the movie "One of Us" , I found it rather disjointed, with no clear explorations of any of the above topics. The movie was sorely about the pain felt by those who left the community, but even that exploration was rather haphazard.
My personal advice to parents in the Orthodox community:
1) (And this is by FAR the most important!!) :
Spend time with your children, let them know that you love them. Always. (You can disapprove of actions but not stop being a parent.)
And doing stuff for them is not enough. They need hugs and good words. Value their individual skills and talents. Be willing to leave the house a wreck at times in order to get out and do stuff with them. Discipline without anger.
2) If your children do not get any English/ science/ geography education, supply it at home. Do science experiments for fun. Teach them about the wonders of the human body. (Just this last shabbat, by granddaughters had a blast listening to their own heart beats with a stethoscope.) Have frum books about science, history, etc. around. And talk with them about them! Buy and play games which teach basic cognitive skills.
3) From even a young age, teach children (gradually) about their body, modesty (in talk and action), and appropriate social boundaries. Be sure they have enough vocabulary to report abuse/ crossing of bouldries/ "bad secrets"
[My previos posts on this topic gives some ideas/info:
and here ]