Felix and Meira, a film about a Hasidic woman’s illicit affair with a secular man, has been hailed by IndieWire as “the first satisfying romance of 2015” and is a New York Times Critics Pick, but some in New York’s Hasidic community apparently disapprove.
Luzer Twersky, an ex-Hasidic man and actor who plays Meira’s Hasidic husband in the limited release film, translated a poster bashing Felix and Meira in Williamsburg and shared it on Instagram:
It is widely known the prohibition by the greats of our generation against the abominal tools such as the videos and the internet.
But unfortunately, the temptresses of our generation have found new ways to drag our holy souls into the depths of hell by providing movies in our mother tongue by well-known licentious characters, sinners attempting to cause other to sin and to drag them away from the path of our forefathers through a new film
Felix and Meira
Which is full of all kinds of incest and heresy written and performed by dirty gentiles and heretics in theaters.
Therefore we would like to repeat our stance: it is forbidden on the highest levels to set foot in a theater in general and in one that plays this film specifically.
Those who breach the fences shall be bitten by snakes.
Twersky says he was tipped off to the poster by someone on Twitter. He doesn’t know who posted it or where it is located, exactly. The photo first appeared in a Hasidic forum kaveshtiebel.com, Yiddish for “coffeehouse.”
“It’s signed somewhat anonymously ‘committee to raise awareness’ which isn’t uncommon with these things,” he said. “Could be anyone from the modesty committee to an individual with a personal grudge against me.”
Twersky is referring to the unofficial but influential mob-like secret group that patrols and enforces rules in ultra-Orthodox communities. The “modesty squad” or “modesty patrol” has put up fliers warning local residents to stay inside during the “dirty” New York marathon, have ordered gender-segregated sidewalks and have enforced dress codes of “no shorts” and “no sleeveless” tops in stores. “I’m not surprised that it’s incendiary and that they would write something like it,” the actor said over the phone. “They write worse things about women’s modesty. This is actually pretty tame.”
Hasidic Jews, who follow a mystical sect of Orthodox Judaism, settled in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and believe in the literal teachings of the Torah. The community is extremely insular and ultra-conservative, largely closed off from secular views and mainstream American media.
But Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger who covers and breaks news about the Orthodox community at Failed Messiah, doesn’t think the posters are real. He told ANIMAL via email, “I think it’s a scam.”
“I’m hearing there is no ban, and that the posters were done as a spoof of some kind,” he wrote, having removed a blog post about the posters from his own site.
To that, however, Twersky says, “I highly doubt that!” The message, trolling or not, is unsurprising to the 28-year-old actor, who left the ultra-Orthodox community at 22. “This film goes against everything they tell their kids,” he said. “I was told that if I leave the community…I’d end up in jail or on drugs. And here I am, with a movie that’s doing incredibly well…I go against everything that they are trying to reinforce and dump into their kids’ brains.”
Twersky grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn, one of the largest Hasidic communities in the country. “I was married, I had a wife and kids, [I had an] arranged marriage at 19,” he said.
“I left, and for a long time me and my parents didn’t speak,” he said, explaining that he has since been able to reconcile with his parents. “I’ve been homeless. I’ve weighed 95 pounds. I’ve been turned away from my own sister’s house because I wear jeans.”
The actor has not been shy about his feelings about the community he left, calling the group “the Jewish Taliban, in a way.” And that’s his assessment after “mellowing a lot.” The Hasidic community has come under fire for attempting to cover up child sexual abuse (the unlicensed therapist convicted of the crime was part of the “modesty patrol”), promoting a religious-based education and its treatment of women.
“I don’t believe in any of it, I had issues with it. I discovered science. I’m an atheist,” said Twersky. “I’m a lot less angry at the community, but yes of course I’m a vocal critic.”