Screening on Netflix, this 4 -part series is one of the best things I have seen for a while. Based partially on Deborah Feldman's best-selling memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, it traces the story and journey of Esther Shapiro(Esty), a young Jewish girl from Williamsburg, NYC.
Esty belongs to a very strict Orthodox community, the Satmar sect who live in the Brooklyn/Williamsburg area of NYC. She grows up in the care of her grandmother, sister and father, who is often absent. The story of what happened to her mother becomes apparent during the series.
The more we get to know about the sect and community, the more difficult it becomes to understand the strict rules, especially when it comes to gender roles and specifically the roles and lives of women. Arranged marriages and having lots of babies is the norm and the expectation of the whole community, not just the immediate family. Policing of behaviours that don't follow the rules, such as having an education or using modern technology, is also ''largely overseen by the community.
But Esty, portrayed superbly by Shira Haas, despite being only 19 and having been married a year, is different and so it's no wonder she decides to leave. Her journey shows incredible courage, incredible determination and at times also a naivety due to her very strict upbringing. We travel with her at the beginning of her new life in Germany and keep our fingers crossed and hold our breath each time she faces another challenge and obstacle.
The other characters in the story, her family and her husband and mother are all very believable and we get to see their points of view despite often not agreeing with them. The difficulties of living in a strict community and any attempts to leave cannot be underestimated, no matter how we personally see the issues and problems.
It is a fascinating look into a very different community, their behaviour, celebrations, way of dressing and also the reasons as to why these communities started in the first place. The series is in a mix of Yiddish and English with English subtitles. It's gripping and perfect to watch during the current lockdown. There is also a fascinating documentary after the final episode, The Making of Unorthodox, which is fascinating to watch and not to be missed.