As “Unorthodox” exposes you to a Hasidic Jewish community, it also introduces Shira Haas, who has the potential to be either an indie darling or mainstream star.
|Creator(s)||Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski|
|Genre(s)||Drama, Young Adult, Non-English, Religious|
This content contains pertinent spoilers.
Season Plot Synopsis
For more than a year, Esther, nickname Esty, has dealt with the courtship rituals and what it is like to be married to a Hasidic Jewish man. Which, since she was raised in the same Williamsburg community, she thought it wouldn’t be bad, could be easy, and maybe even happy. After all, with no real relationship with her mother and a drunkard for a dad, this would mean getting to make her own nuclear family.
However, within a few weeks of marriage, she learns her now-husband, Yanky, is a momma’s boy, and as things get harder and harder for Esty, so comes the realization that a mistake might have been made. Leading to the drastic action to leave and head to Berlin – the place her mother went to after, allegedly, leaving Esty behind.
Shira Haas – 90
The driving force behind this whole miniseries is Shira Haas. It is in seeing her build up this dream and then realizing, to have it, she slowly has to kill all the qualities that make her an individual that this you hard. For in many ways, from the guy from a good family, the dream wedding, all of that, she got to live that childhood fantasy.
Yet, in many ways, seeing Esty’s life past the wedding night is like seeing what happens in a princess movie after the credits roll. For as Esty has trouble having sex, dealing with the whispers, Yanky and his mother Miriam, as well as how involved the community is in her relationship, you see the reality that isn’t always thought of when it comes to marrying the prince.
And then, when she heads off to Berlin, each act of freedom feels like an opportunity to live vicariously. Be it Esty taking off her wig and letting her scalp breathe, wearing clothes that aren’t traditional but modern, getting to dance, heck GETTING TO SING! It is like watching a bird whose wings were clipped escape their cage and, after being forced to hop for a bit, begin to fly as they naturally once did.
How It Paints Hasidic Jewish Culture – 88
“Unorthodox” tries to walk the fine line between not trying to damn Hasidic Jewish culture yet not make excuses for it either. Instead, as explained in the fourth episode, a lot of things done are due to superstition, and because Jews have suffered so greatly, any means to avoid further harassment or genocide is done as a precaution. Now, does this excuse the way their patriarchal structure is setup or enforced? No. Does it excuse the ostracization or harassment to those who leave? Absolutely not.
But, in an effort to tell the truth, you have to deal with what’s uncomfortable. So as much as the show tries to push how much Hasidic Jews are about community, as shown through Yanky thinking Leah could enjoy coming back, it is depending on who is experiencing the benefits of said community. Also, how much that community appreciates different personalities, points of view, and ultimately, does it value its members equally?
For as shown in Yanky and Esty’s marriage, he was the king, and she was not the queen. She was a birthing machine which has time off if she was on her menstrual cycle. Or if she needed to make appearances. Yet, for the men, since everything was geared towards their pleasure and happiness, it was a beautiful set up with limited things to worry about as long as you followed their interpretation of holy documents.
Every Scene, Every Cast Member, Every Episode Feels Like It Has Purpose – 87
While we didn’t note every last character in the miniseries, ranging from Moishe’s friend Igor to some of the people who attended the conservatory in Berlin, each person felt like they served a purpose. Either they fleshed out what Williamsburg was like for Esty or the life she could have had in Berlin. And even if you take Esty out of the equation, everyone appeared to have a full life. Granted, some may not be happy with it, want more, or were just glad to be alive, but there was little to no filler here.
A Brief Understanding Of Why Hasidic Jews Hold Tightly To Their Ways – 86
With not being Jewish, and someone who isn’t necessarily much for non-fiction media, I learn through what I watch. Shows like “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” “Atypical,” and “The Good Doctor” are how I experience what it is like to be autistic or have someone in your life who has autism. “Unorthodox” is no different. For while I do occasionally see Hasidic, Ultraorthodox Jewish people in passing, there is rarely ever a reason to interact. Much less, I have yet to meet someone of that community that desires to reach out and correspond, unless it is necessary.
So, with that said, throughout the series, there are constant questions about customs, why this is that way, or how come Esty and Yanky seem so ignorant of technology? And it is all answered in episode 4 as it is noted that when Jews tried to integrate with their neighbors, it leads to negative consequences. Making it so, while certain things they will do if they must, like use modern science and medicine, other things will be abstained from.
And while, again, it doesn’t excuse some aspects of the culture, I am an outsider. It is foreign to me since I didn’t grow up with the moral values and faith they have. Yet, even in what was one or two scenes, I got it. I may not agree with it, but I get it.
On The Fence
It Leaves Multiple Storylines Unresolved – 75
Unfortunately, “Unorthodox” ends on an ellipsis. It leaves unresolved what will happen to Esty’s child, though it gives you an idea of the fight that could come, and what is Esty’s fate? She was vying for a scholarship, but we’re not told if she’ll get it. She is given a reason to return to Williamsburg, if just for a few days, but we don’t learn if the news ever hits her of what happened? And it is being left with not knowing which could frustrate some after making an investment in Esty.
Rating: Positive (Watch This) – Recommended
What the best television can do for any viewer is to open them up. Be it open their hearts, open their minds, or have them open up in a way to have a hearty laugh. With “Unorthodox,” the goal here seems to be opening your mind and hearts. Not in such a way to damn this sect of the Jewish community, but to understand them in ways outsiders usually can’t. And while Esty’s story may not bring an easy on the eyes light to Hasidic Jews, there are glimpses into the beauty that is having such a tight-knit community with shared beliefs and a strongly adhered-to structure.
Leading to why the positive label, and recommendation: “Unorthodox” was made with purpose and felt like it is without filler. A compliment very few shows receive for in the effort to make money, they often forget about keeping to the point and keeping their story concise and cast only as large as needed. Issues absent with “Unorthodox,” hence why we’re recommending it.