When someone says Williamsburg the first word that pops into most people’s heads is “hipster”: too-cool-for-school millennials feigning indifference, well thought-out nonchalance expertly uploaded to Instagram. But where north meets south at Broadway Avenue, a whole different world exists. The dress code turns black and white and the streets are filled with ultra-Orthodox Jews; the men distinguished by their side curls, the women by the lines of children who follow after them, some pushing strollers themselves. In this community, the internet and crushing modernity that looms around every corner is perceived as the biggest threat to their pious way of life.
In 2012, the community’s rabbis gathered tens of thousands of followers at Citi Field for an urgent proclamation against the use of the Internet. Outside on the corner of the street, protected by police, stood about 50 people, all former members of the same community, standing up against the rabbinical leaders. They protested that the leaders were not addressing the right problems—instead of directly addressing the darker issues within the community itself, they were blaming the outside world.
This is where the idea for our upcoming Kickstarter-funded feature film ‘The Other Side’ was born. While our movie is a work of fiction, it is largely based on the true stories of people who have left the Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg. We took those stories, fictionalized and reimagined them, and created an indie drama about a young Hasidic Jewish man who turns to the outside world for help in exposing a crime being committed within his community. In the process, his family and world are turned upside down and he comes to question all that he has believed in.
We agonized over each word of this story, knowing that exploring the dark subject of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community would encounter resistance—some people might even label project as anti-Semitic. All of us involved in creating the film are Jewish and our goal has always been to make the Jewish community stronger. I grew up as a reform Jew, director Dani Tenenbaum is Israeli, and our other two partners are both former members of the Hasidic community. We understand why the community has been so reluctant to talk about the issue of sexual abuse. But now is the time to speak up and to stop the silence.
In ‘The Other Side’ we will explore the beauty and deviance that coexist in the Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg, and how a thriving hipster community right next door tempts young members away from a life of safety to a life of the unknown. To stay true to the authenticity of the cultures, we will shoot the movie in Yiddish, English, and also some Hebrew.
Since our Kickstarter campaign started, we have received many emails, messages, and comments—from people within the community who are extremely supportive of the project, and also from those who hope that this topic never sees the light of day. We can’t make this movie without the help of the public. We’ve created a short video to introduce you to the project, as well as an interactive video where you can “choose your own adventure” and discover the different worlds of our film.
This is a very dynamic time in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn. New voices are being heard, and the old structure of the community is changing. As the number of people leaving this world grow, the need to explore what this phenomenon really means—on an individual level, and for Judaism as a whole—grows more urgent. It’s a story of clashing cultures and changing perceptions. It’s ‘The Other Side.’
Stacey Maltin is the screenplay writer and producer of ‘The Other Side.’ She has BFA from NYU Tisch with a minor in journalism and has been working professionally in film and theater for over ten years.