We live in a world which demands that we conform. If we do not conform, the consequences are numerous.
Unorthodox recently premiered on Netflix. Based on the book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, the four part series follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro (nee Schwartz, played by Shira Haas). Married at 19 to Yanky Shapiro (Amit Rahav), Esty is unprepared for the pressures that come with being a married woman in the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
When the pressure becomes too much, Esty escapes to Berlin where her estranged mother, Leah (Alex Reid) lives. Taken in and befriended by music students, she begins to see that there is life outside of the world that she was born into. But when her husband and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch) arrive in Berlin to find her and bring her home, it becomes a game of cat and mouse.
I found this series to be fascinating and human. Its easy to live within the confines and the rules of the community, especially if you are a woman. It is infinitely more difficult to make your own way in the world. Two things stuck out to me as I was watching. The first was that although we see the world through Esty’s eyes, the judgement is not as harsh as it appears to be. The second is the relationships between the characters. Regardless of the societal, cultural and religious beliefs that the audience member holds, there is a universal quality to the the story being told.
Two weeks ago, I reviewed Exodus, the second book by Deborah Feldman. Yesterday, I finished reading Unorthodox, Ms. Feldman first book.
Deborah Feldman was raised in the insular ultra-religious Jewish Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After her parent’s marriage ended, she was raised by her grandparents. Feeling trapped by the endless series of rules and traditions, she rebels by reading secular books and finding kinship with the characters within the novels.
As is tradition within this community, her husband is chosen for her. By the time she is 20, she has been married for two years and has a son. The internal tension of Ms. Feldman’s personal desire for freedom, while trying to be the good girl that she is expected be, forces her to make a decision that will forever alter her fate and her son’s fate.
I liked this book. Having now read both books, I understand her. The ultra-religious Jews are no different than any other ultra-religious community. There is a fear of the secular, outside world. The traditions provide comfort, simplicity and a barrier to the outside world that is very different from their own world.
In 2009, Deborah Feldman was a wife and mother living in the insular ultra-religious Jewish Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Feeling trapped, she took her young son and left the community, her family and her husband for a new life.
Her memoir, Exodus , a sequel to her previous memoir, follows Ms. Feldman’s journey as she travels to previously unknown parts of the United States and Europe. In Europe, she travels to birth places of her Holocaust survivor grandparents while in the company of several men, one of whom is a grandson of a Nazi.
I haven’t yet read Unorthodox, so I can only go by Exodus. I suspect that Ms. Feldman’s journey is no different than anyone whose who raised in an insular ultra religious community and makes the choice to leave their family and community. I did enjoy the book, but I would have liked to see a balance of her rebellion from her roots and her acceptance of her roots.
Do I recommend this book? Maybe, but only if you have read her previous memoir.