When I got a screener for the Netflix limited series Unorthodox, I was a bit skeptical that I would resonate with a story revolving around ultra-orthodox Jewish people. You see, I was raised Catholic and I’m spiritual by choice – so there is nothing “orthodox” about my past. But, the fact that it was about a girl who escaped that community intrigued me enough to give it a try – and I’m glad I did – because at its core, this is a universal story about a fish out of water who, despite her constant attempts to fit in, never will. And who can’t relate to that? We have all felt like a fish out of water at some point in our lives.
Esty (Hira Haas) is a 19 year old girl from an ultra-Jewish community who realizes the only way for her to be happy is to move on (and far away) from a community that punishes her just for being herself. So, with the help of her piano teacher, she flees her arranged marriage and escapes to Berlin where her estranged mother lives. When her husband Yanky (Amit Rahav) realizes that she has gone missing and that she is pregnant with their first child, he goes on a quest to find her with his shady cousin, Moishe (Jeff Wilbush).
The show does an amazing job at immersing you in this community of people who managed to keep themselves isolated from the modern world despite being in the middle of Brooklyn. They are not like the Amish who live in the middle of nowhere; they are in one of the busiest metropolitan cities in the country and yet, they live like it’s 1920. I found that to be fascinating. Esty has never worn pants, never used a computer, and definitely doesn’t know what Tik Tok is. She had to take piano classes in secret (because she is not allowed to play music), she doesn’t have the choice to marry out of love, and her whole life is dedicated to praying, cooking and having as many kids as possible. In fact, those three things are pretty much all that is expected from her or any other women in her orthodox community.
All of a sudden, this girl who hasn’t ever left Williamsburg finds herself in the liberal city of Berlin without any knowledge of German, barely speaking English (since Yiddish was her first language) with no money and a baby in her belly. The only person she knows there is her mother, who she thinks abandoned her when she was only 3 years old. She goes to find her, but when she sees her kissing another woman on the street, she gets scared and decides to be on her own, even if that means being homeless.
She soon gets caught by the music coming from the Berlin Music Conservatory and makes a new group of friends who are there thanks to a musical scholarship. Through those friends, she will explore the world of Berlin – its nightclubs, food and culture – for the first time. And by doing all this exploration, she starts to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life.
This is a must-watch regardless of your ethnicity, religion or nationality and a solid addition to the LATV quarantine queue. The limited series is available beginning today, March 26th, only on Netflix. And when you’re done with Unorthodox, here’s another recommendation from the queue to keep you busy!
Photography by Anika Molnar/Netflix