‘Unorthodox’ memoir inspires series

Culture plays a huge part of our lives. Food, clothing, stories, beliefs, music and traditions can all be directed by the type of culture that we are raised in.

Netflix’s miniseries, “Unorthodox” is based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.” In both the series and Feldman’s novel, a young woman leaves her Hasidic community, rejecting her upbringing in the search of a new life.

The series is only loosely based on Feldman’s novel as it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Feldman’s flight, but one that is similar to it, however, Feldman was on hand to guide Netflix and ensure that the series accurately depicted her community’s customs.

At age 19, Esty is a married woman, who finds herself unhappy with her marriage and finds it difficult to share her woes with her family who tell her she must be a dutiful wife. In the hopes of living a life that allows her to be herself, Esty leaves her husband and her community without telling anyone in her life where she is going. She leaves her Williamsburg neighborhood and travels to Berlin to start her life anew and tries to reach out to her mother, who previously left the community. After learning a secret about Esty, her husband and his cousin follow her to Berlin in the hopes of bringing her back home.


Seasons: One

Episodes: Four

Episode duration: 55 minutes

Rating: TV-MA

Language: Yiddish and English

Similar series: Spinning Out

“Unorthodox” does not seek to poke fun at or question the community Esty comes from, it merely seeks to show how she did not fit with her community as her culture prevented her from pursuing her musical dreams.

Esty, like Feldman, is from the Satmar Hasidic community. The Satmar community is slightly different from other Hasidic communities because it was founded by Jewish people from a particular area in Hungary. In the series Esty’s choice to run to Berlin of all places is viewed critically by those in her community as Germany was the home of many camps during the Holocaust.

Esty’s story is compelling and beautiful as she finds her way in the world. Shira Haas plays Esty with a heartbreakingly delicate and raw sensibility. Through Haas’ brilliant acting, Esty comes across as a courageous and brilliant woman who can hold her own as she stumbles through the world outside her community.

“Unorthodox” is a four-part series available on Netflix. The series is rated TV-MA. Audiences who enjoy Haas’ spectacular performance might also enjoy the brilliant acting in Netflix’s “Spinning Out,” in which Kaya Scodelario plays a figure skater struggling with her mental health.