A young person’s sexual and/or emotional awakening is a standard narrative. What makes one stand out from another is not just the specific character detail, but the culture that this young person has grown up in.
The Awakening of Mottie Wolkenbruch (based on the book of the same name by Thomas Meyer)was released on Netflix in 2018. The title character, Mottie Woldenbruch (Joel Basman) is a young man from an Orthodox Jewish family. Having followed the prescribed life path so far, the next step is to get married and have children. While his mother, Judith (Inge Maux) is more than eager to see her son become a husband, Mottie is not so sure. His preference would be to have a say in his future wife. Things become more complicated when he becomes friends with a perceived shiska (a woman who is not Jewish), Laura (Noémie Schmidt). As their relationship grows, Mottie finds himself torn between his mother and Laura.
Warning: The video above is only partially in English. Subtleties may be required.
There are two ways to use cultural or religious stereotypes when developing characters. One way to use them as-is and not give these people room to grow. The second is to use specific traits or personal history as a baseline and use that as an opportunity to expand someone’s full humanity, warts, and all.
Having never read the book, I can only speak of what I saw. To be perfectly frank, after sitting through all of 30 minutes, I had to turn it off. I could have waited until next year to write about it on a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post, but I could not wait until 2023. This movie is beyond bad. The book’s author (who is also the screenwriter) doesn’t even try to break away from Jewish stereotypes. The mother is overbearing, Laura is the shiska goddess and Motti has no redeeming value as our protagonist.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely not.
The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is available for streaming on Netflix.
After watching a few episodes, I can understand why some Orthodox Jewish women are annoyed by how their community is portrayed, I think the viewer has to take into account that this is Haart’s perspective. I like the mental health aspect of the series, addressing how many women in conservative or fundamentalist may feel trapped by the constraints of their gender and the rules of their gender. I also liked how positively Judaism is portrayed. Though Haart is no longer Orthodox, she is still Jewish and not afraid to be open about it. It is educational without hitting the audience over the head.
It has the gloss of a Bravo reality show, but it is slightly less trashy and not as much of a brain drain as other programs in the genre.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
My Unorthodox Life is available for streaming on Netflix.
Though sex and sexuality is part and parcel of human nature, it is often viewed as something dangerous and wrong.
For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (aka Dr. Ruth), has been America’s sex therapist. The 2019 Hulu documentary movie, Ask Dr. Ruth, tells her story. Born in 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany, everything was normal for the first ten years of her life. When it became clear that being a Jew in Germany was dangerous, Ruth (then known by her first name, Karola) was sent to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.
At the age of 17, she emigrated to what was then British controlled Palestine (pre-Independence Israel) and joined the Haganah. Years later, she again emigrated to the United States. Living in New York City, she married, raised her two children and became the woman we know her to be today.
The thing I love about her is that at nearly 100 years old, she has the energy of a woman half her age. She represents hope, life, change, and that a woman can never be limited to what she can do because she is “female”. Her presence first on the radio and then on television, helped to open the door to long overdue conversations about sex and sexuality.
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.
Life is made up a variety of experiences. Sometimes these experiences take our lives into new directions previously not thought of.
In the early 1960’s, second wave feminist and author Phyllis Chesler was young and in love. Ms. Chesler was born into an Orthodox Jewish family from Brooklyn, New York. The man she fell in love with was the son of a devout Muslim family from Afghanistan.
Deciding to take a chance on love, she put aside her family and her ambitions to marry this man and live with him in his native country. Her experience is chronicle in her 2013 memoir, An American Bride In Kabul. When the plane landed in Kabul, her American passport was taken away from her. She was no longer an individual, but property that was part and parcel of her husband’s family. The charming, educated, open minded man she fell in love was soon replaced by a traditional man who clung to the old traditions and expected his wife to do the same.
What I very much enjoyed about this book was that it opened my eyes to a world that I know really nothing of. Many of us who live in the West, unless we have visited countries like Afghanistan, truly have no understanding of what it is to live in that world. One of the points that Ms. Chesler makes is that those of us in the West may pretend to understand what it is to live in Afghanistan and other countries in that region, but the truth is that we do not.