Review: ‘Unorthodox’ captures attention to detail, meaningful representation of Hasidic Jewish community

The Netflix original series "Unorthodox" follows a young woman who leaves her traditional Hasidic Jewish community to reconcile with her birth mother in Berlin. Photo Courtesy of Netflix.

By Bridget Sjoberg | Editor-in-Chief

Since its debut in March, Netflix’s limited series “Unorthodox” has become a topic of both conversation and debate, causing viewers to consider whether loyalty to tradition or a longing for individuality is the preferred path to follow.

With incredible acting and an impressive attention to detail, “Unorthodox” is a triumph, and an important series to watch for anyone struggling between following their culture and following their heart.

“Unorthodox” follows 19-year-old Esty, a young woman growing up in a traditional Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Recently married to another Jew named Yanky, Esty struggles to become pregnant which causes her to be judged and ostracized in her community. In an attempt to begin a new life free of the traditions and rules she grew up with, Esty escapes to Berlin to reconcile with her birth mom, who also fled the Hasidic community.

One aspect of the show that is really impressive is the attention to accurately capturing the Hasidic culture in a way that feels authentic. “Unorthodox” is accompanied by a Netflix short titled “Making Unorthodox” that explains how the show’s creators went about creating an environment that respectfully portrayed the Hasidic community.

Many of the actors in “Unorthodox” are Jewish or from Israel, and had a familiarity with Hasidic Judaism before filming. There were also experts on set to help with accurately filming everything from a Hasidic wedding to Yiddish translation, as the Hasidic community comes from Hungary.

Additionally, Shira Haas, who plays Esty on the show, did a phenomenal job portraying a character torn between being loyal to her roots and longing to live the life she wants. She can tell a whole story just through her facial expressions, and made it easy for the viewers to be empathetic and understanding towards her character.

Another element that the show captured well was set and costume design. The attention to detail made the scenes in Brooklyn feel believable, and scenes in Berlin by the lake or in the music school showcased beautiful natural light and stunning architecture.

“Unorthodox” showcases a uniquely specific circumstance and culture, but it’s also a tale of growing up and finding yourself that any viewer can relate to. The show is based off of a 2012 memoir by Deborah Feldman, although Esty’s story in “Unorthodox” varies in different ways.

While Feldman did grow up in a Hasidic community and she now lives in Berlin, her process of transitioning to a western, modern lifestyle was more gradual than Esty’s. A storyline in the show also follows Esty’s interest in music and process of auditioning for an orchestra in Berlin, while this never occurred in Feldman’s life. “Making Unorthodox” features an interview with Feldman, where she said that Esty’s life in Brooklyn was similar to her own, yet Esty’s storyline in Berlin was fabricated for creative purposes.

“Unorthodox” only has four episodes and is an easy miniseries to binge. Esty’s struggle to choose between completely different ways of life is a meaningful, modern take on the role tradition and culture have in shaping us. Even more interesting, however, is how Esty’s past follows her even with a new lifestyle. “Unorthodox” tells the story of how we are a combination of who we were born to be and who we become.