Leaving the Fold: Film explores Orthodox Jews who leave family's repressive 'fold'

Winnipeg Free Press/February 20, 2009

Evangelical Christians, Mennonites, Hutterites, Muslims - no strict religious sect can shield all its youth from temptation by the serpent of modernity.

In Leaving the Fold, a modest though often affecting documentary, Montreal director Eric Scott surveys the problem from the perspective of Orthodox Jewry.

This is a community that gives the impression of wanting to remain in the 14th century. Yet the adherents and infidels Scott interviews, from the streets of Montreal to the beaches of Israel, are uniformly articulate, attractive and sophisticated.

A Hasidic rabbi in Montreal, whose first language is French, relates a Sisyphean parable about a man whose sack of rocks turns out to be filled with diamonds.

"Life is hard if you see it as being hard," he says. "And it's very easy if you see it as being easy."

Scott focuses on a pair of apostate Montreal brothers, Levi and Hudi Riven, and their warmly combative relationship with their widowed father, Pinchus.

A psychology student at Concordia University, Levi talks about wanting a life of "curiosity and exploration." Pinchus says, "Each and every day I pray for their return."

A secular audience may admire Levi and Hudi's lucid dissection of religion but still feel sorry for Pinchus. He has encouraged his boys to think for themselves, and they ended up "leaving the fold."

Scott, himself Jewish, interviews a lively New York woman, a musician with the vivacity of a young Miriam Toews. She recalls being mortified as a nine-year-old when her innocent dancing was judged by other Orthodox women as somehow lascivious.

"It was a sign that I would end up doing something much worse," she says with a smile, "which I think ended up being true."

More chillingly, Scott talks to an Israeli woman barely out of her teens who was born into one of the country's strictest sects. She was physically attacked for "wearing pants."

A young Israeli man, from a similar background, echoes the common complaint that religious orthodoxy removes all choice from a person's life. "It's like being on a train with someone else driving."

Still into his 20s, he recalls his arranged marriage to a girl he didn't know.

"I think you can call it rape," he says of the wedding night. "And it's as much a rape for the guy as it is for the girl."

Stylistically, there is nothing adventuresome about Leaving the Fold. At 52 minutes in length, it is perfect for an hour block of television, and in fact it is slated to debut in April on the Documentary Channel.

It is meat-and-potatoes filmmaking -- or make that meat and latkes. But it makes an eternal point: As always in the debate between faith and reason, between the tribal impulse and desire for assimilation, there are no real winners.

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