This new mini-series from Netflix, released in mid-March, follows the life of a 19-year-old ultra-orthodox Jewish woman who runs away to Berlin, a story loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.
But before I start, I just want to shout out to Lowrey’s for sponsoring this post! Make sure you add their keto-approved Microwave Pork Rinds to your next essential shop! Who doesn’t love a pork snack to nosh on while binge watching a mini-series about Jews?! Not exactly kosher but – meh.
As I was saying… Esther, or ‘Esty’ as she is referred to, played by Shira Haas, found herself unhappy in her arranged marriage to Yanke Shapiro inside the ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.
One Sabbath, she flees her home with only a handful of possessions. Why only a handful of possessions you ask? It isn’t because she doesn’t want anyone to notice immediately she is missing or running away. This is due to the fact that the ‘eruv is broken’. I had to do a good old Google to find out more about this. Turns out, on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, you aren’t allowed to carry objects, even something really tiny, more than six feet in the public areas. This ‘eruv’ is a way of creating a defined area using string or wire along the top of electric or telephone poles around a town or neighbourhood. It is checked weekly by two trusted scholars.
Once in Berlin, while ordering a coffee, Esty meets Rob and helps him take his large coffee order to his friends at a music conservatory. She stays to watch the rehearsal before going with them to the beach.
As the story unfolds, Esty finds her feet in a new city with new friends and attempting to reconnect with her estranged mother. Back home, her husband and cousin decide to fly to Berlin to find Esty and bring her back to the community.
This mini-series uncovered a lot of what happens in an orthodox community, the rituals, traditions and the people. It is a wonderful story of a young woman becoming herself and learning about the world. The documentary series managed to delicately balance the portrayal of the families involved that didn’t make me love or hate them, nor did it depict them as horrible people, or amazing, more so, a feeling of understanding of other cultures and beliefs and that should you be involved in a community like this one, it would be understandable that they are how they are.
Following binge-watching this amazing mini-series, I quickly downloaded the 2012 memoir by Deborah Feldman that it was based on to hear the full story in greater detail, and minus a few embellishments. Feldman worked with the producers of the show to ensure that the depiction of the insular Hasidic community was as accurate as possible.
To be honest, from what I have heard about this ultra-Orthodox community, learnt from documentaries and books, the depiction of Esty’s life is very much in-line with what other sources have described so there wasn’t anything included that was beyond reasonable doubt. Anything that I thought might be a little far-fetched, was Googled and shortly after, confirmed, and not just from one source.