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A Life Apart: Hasidism in America (1997)

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Hasidic Jews seem alien, and even hostile, to those outside their culture,which frequently includes other Jews. They dress differently, don't mingle between the sexes, speak Yiddish, and ... See full summary »

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Credited cast:
Himself (Narrator) (voice)
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Zeldy Abromowitz ...
Yaffa Eliach ...
Herself (as Prof. Yaffa Eliach)
Chips Gold ...
Esther Gold ...
Jack Gold ...
Samuel Heilman ...
Himself (as Prof. Samuel Heilman)
Arthur Hertzberg ...
Himself (as Prof. Arthur Hertzberg)
Ben Zion Horowitz ...
Nuta Kaufman ...
Malke Klein ...
Beryl Lazar ...
Chanie Lazar ...
Mayer Schiller ...


Hasidic Jews seem alien, and even hostile, to those outside their culture,which frequently includes other Jews. They dress differently, don't mingle between the sexes, speak Yiddish, and wear side curls, all in an attempt to rigorously follow the commandments of the Torah. They tend to keep to themselves, shunning television and the media so outside influences cannot corrupt their values and views. Yet filmmakers Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum were able to enter their world, and the result is the fascinating documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America. Using interviews with academics and members of the community and some historical footage, the filmmakers trace the growth of Hasidic groups in the United States. Groups formed around particular Rebbes (learned leaders) and they took their names from their Eastern European home cities (the Satmar Hasids, the Breslov Hasids, and so on). Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker narrate, explaining how this movement came to America and how... Written by Jenny Brown

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Release Date:

November 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Egy külön élet: Haszidizmus Amerikában  »

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A Life Apart: Hasidism In America
5 October 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

As might be suspected from its title, this documentary was filmed largely - but not exclusively - in New York. There is a perennial question who's Jew? but this is one that never arises for the Hasidim, especially the men, who are immediately and always identifiable as such by their distinctive black garb.

Unlike most immigrants, the Hasidim have not become part of the American (so-called) melting pot, retaining not only their dress and their religion but their culture including the distinctive Yiddish language. Because of this they have to live in close proximity with each other, and their large families, sometimes with upwards of ten children, can also be a financial strain.

There have though been some minor concessions to assimilation, at least as far as working in the outside world is concerned. Criticism of Hasidism comes from a black New Yorker who interprets their distance as spiritual arrogance, but this belief is clearly misplaced; what is so terrible about a man who tells you he prays for "you people" too?

Other criticism comes from secular or at least less orthodox Jews, including one woman who quit the tribe to make her own way in the world. Horses for courses, just as debauchery is not for everyone, neither is spirituality. There is no reason today's woman whatever her background should not be independent, but beyond the arranged marriages is a culture that venerates the position of especially the mother, which is probably the reason one of the mothers interviewed here laughed at what she rightly considers the ludicrous concept of women's liberation.

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