‘Unorthodox’ Breaking Barriers



Promotional poster showing Yanky and Esther Shapiro

Amina Feratovic, Reporter

The new limited Netflix series titled “Unorthodox” was released earlier this week and it breaks many barriers that people have failed to break before. It is based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” and highlights the struggle of leaving an ultra-orthodox community.

The show features a woman, Esther “Esty” Shapiro, escaping her Hasidic Jewish community and her husband, Jacob “Yanky” Shapiro, to pursue a better life in Berlin, Germany. The series highlights a variety of cultural, social and artistic qualities that the community has kept for generations but the mainstream media has neglected.

An important thing to note is that the show is based on the Hasidic Satmar Jewish people in Brooklyn, New York. They are descendants of those who lost their lives to the concentration camps during World War II; this specific sect practices religion strictly, rejects modern culture, and is anti-zionist. Often, the Hasidic Satmar Jewish people are noted as the community that has kept Yiddish alive in a melting pot.

All of these aspects are important to the storyline of Esty’s past.

Esty is introduced as a young girl from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Raised in the Hasidic Satmar sect, she is often reminded of how the rest of her extended family died during WWII and how important it is to keep her culture alive, especially in terms of procreation. At one point, she reveals that women in her community procreate in order to replace the six million lives lost during WWII.

Throughout the story it is clear that the woman’s place is to serve her husband but Esty, trying to find a balance between culture and personal happiness, defends herself. Unable to fulfill the demands of her family and thinking that, “God was asking too much” of her, she gains her German citizenship and escapes to live in Berlin with her estranged mother. However, escaping from such a community is not so easy and she faces many problems while she starts her new life.

“Unorthodox” is an interesting show because although Esty ends up running away from her community, they still show beautiful parts of it in her flashbacks. The richness of the music, both in German and Yiddish paints a beautiful and diverse portrait of a woman trying to discover herself in a difficult world.

The cast of this show looks to reflects their viewers in real world through their characters. Some of them are Muslim, some are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and some are German natives.

The show works to distinguish the differences between Esty and Yael, a Jewish woman from Israel. By having Yael in the show it breaks the misconception that people from one religion are all the same. It proves the fluidity of practicing religion and makes people question their own religion at the same time.

This show portrays the struggle of believing in religion, following cultural and societal standards and finding true happiness. This is definitely something anyone can relate to because the story of finding ourselves is nothing new; we all want to be happy and we all want to find out who we really are no matter what it takes.