At the end of One of Us you are struggling. How are things going for you today?
Things are going really well, actually. I finished the rehab program and as of today (Oct 12) I have 205 days clean. I don’t even drink coffee, eat candy or smoke cigarettes. I have an apartment in Bed-Stuy and I recently met my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I am working freelance jobs in technology – custom set-ups, upgrades, that sort of thing – and looking for a full-time job. And, the really big news is I’m actively pursuing college. I’m starting a GED program soon and then I’m going to college right after.
That’s a big step. What made you decide to go to college?
I’ve always wanted to go but I didn’t think I have that option. Recently, my girlfriend and I went to State College, PA for the weekend to see Penn State, where she graduated, and I was impressed. And as I’ve been doing the talk backs for One of Us I realized that I have a lot of support that will stick with me when I go through with it.
What do you want to study?
Technology. I love technology. Specifically futuristic tech like biohacking. I had a microchip implanted in my right hand over 2 years ago and other biohacking projects are on the bucket list. I’m really interested in information security as well as consumer electronics engineering. At this time, I don’t think I have a chance at MIT but I’d love to complete my education there.
Are you glad you did the documentary?
I’m glad I did the film, even more now that I am seeing the impact it’s starting to have. I never thought it would be that big, that explosive. For people who have doubts, this will be eye-opening; it raises the contrast between being inside the community and out.
What impact do you think One of Us will have on ultra-Orthodox communities?
I hope this film speeds up the process of the community recognizing its problems, like sexual abuse, and stopping the pretense that the problems don’t exist. I don’t want to go around saying that the community is filled with abusers, it’s not. But the few who are abusive are being protected and that enables others. I was recently made aware that the fraction of Satmar, the sect of Hasidic Judaism that I was raised in, made some policy changes regarding how they respond to sexual abuse accusations and how they deal with abusers. This kind of change is needed, and will hopefully be sped up exponentially by awareness generated by One of Us.
Also, I hope they address the lack of secular education, When it comes to education, there’s a great lack of consideration for kids’ futures. I’m now 20 years old and I had next to no secular education in Satmar, at least none that was meaningful.
Are you in touch with people in your community?
I am with some. My attitude is, If you’re happy in your life, and you don’t try to change me, I’m happy for you. Just be happy for me that I’m finding my own path in life. Some people hate me for being me, and I usually don’t fight back, I just block them. Those with nothing but negativity toward me don’t have a spot in my life.
What about your family?
I’m glad you asked, because I want to take this opportunity to clear up the misconception. I have an amazing relationship with my family now. My parents were right there with me when I was in the toughest battles with addiction, and for that I’m forever grateful. It wasn’t always like that, but my parents, siblings and I all put in the effort to make it work. It is possible to be on other sides of the aisle and still have a lovely family. I eat dinner with the family every now and again and I’m always welcome there, as long as I respect the rules of the house. Sadly, that’s more than most of my friends can say about their families.
My parents have decided to not see the film, and I understand that. We don’t talk about it anymore. My older brother is religious, happy and content, and I’m glad it works for him. He respects my beliefs and vice versa. My seven younger siblings don’t know much about my addiction, the film or much else of my current life.
What dreams do you have for your future?
I want to do more traveling. There’s a town in Romania, called Ramnicu Valcea, nicknamed Hackerville. I’ve wanted to visit there for a long time. I just want to travel. See what else is out there. The only time I left the US was to go to the Toronto International Film Festival for the One of Us premiere. I have a lot more to see.