“Holy Rollers” was a derisive term coined to describe Pentecostal Christians who became ecstatic during worship. It’s also the title of a film with the unlikely storyline involving the recruitment of young Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn to smuggle Ecstasy tablets from Europe into the USA, which happened to be true. In their black hats, dark suits and side-curls, the stream of young Hasidic men flying home from Europe seemed unlikely to raise the suspicions of United States Customs officials. Hasidim means literally “loving kindness” and, ironically, is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as fundamental aspects of the faith. The hero is Sam Gold, a young Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn and being trained as a rabbi. His father hopes to arrange a excellent match for him, one that will raise him above the poverty his family has known. As the boy grows older, he shows an aptitude for business which his family firmly discourages.
As Sam begins to show signs of resenting living up to his family’s expectations, he is approached by the older brother of his best friend, who persuades both cloistered innocents to take an exciting trip overseas to bring back ‘medicine’ to those denied it in the US. His innocence is his protection at airport security desks and he becomes adept at muling large quantities of illegal substances. He becomes captivated by the lure of the life he has glimpsed and begins to form new relationships with the fast, exotic criminal world, starting to lead a double life. His business instincts prove valuable and are applauded by his Israeli dealer. Eventually Sam himself is recruiting innocent Hasidic kids and experimenting with the drug he smuggles. His parting words to his new recruits are..”mind your business and act Jewish.”
Sam is unable to keep his clandestine actions from his family and his community. As the ordered life pattern of his childhood begins to unravel, he becomes closer to the new, dangerous people in his life, only to realise that they are enmeshed in conflict and despair that neither he nor they can resolve. His own dilemma is whether to turn back to the securities of his former life or continue down a road he now knows leads to destruction.
The film is interspersed by snippets of Rabbinic teaching in Sam’s shul – the Adamic story is presented as a choice – when HaShem (Hebrew for ‘the Name’ – Lev 24:11) calls to Adam in the Garden, Adam has only two choices, to move closer, or to move further away. Sam struggles to rediscover his God on the quicksand between the temptations of the world and the straitjacket of his ancient traditions. Regardless of the choices he makes, he will hurt others in his life if he wants to save his own. The movie sharply demonstrates Chaucer’s Squire’s maxim that “bihoueth hire a ful longe spone.. That shal ete with a feend”, or,”he who drinks soup with the Devil needs a very long spoon”.