Jewish film: the true story behind Unorthodox

The real story behind “Unorthodox”

The emancipation of a young woman who grew up in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community is the plot of the series “Unorthodox”, which is a hit on Netflix. A look back at the story that inspired her.

Since its broadcast on Netflix on 26 March, Unorthodox has been so popular that the mini-series has slipped into the top 10 most watched programmes on the platform. Four episodes follow the journey of Esther Shapiro, a 19-year-old woman from the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, who flees an arranged marriage on her way to Berlin.

Adapted from the book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, this German fiction is based on the life of Deborah Feldman in New York. The young woman, now 33 years old and very involved in the series project, grew up in the Hasidic community of Satmar in Williamsburg (founded after the Second World War). Raised by her grandmother away from society, in a very conservative family, she has only one refuge: the reading of novels forbidden by her family, such as The Daughters of Dr. March. A daily life governed by very strict rules: shaving her head, not watching television or reading, dressing modestly and more generally bending to her husband’s wishes.

Like other women in her community, Deborah Feldman has to get married as soon as she comes of age. Like the heroine of the series, she sees her future husband, Eli, only twice for 30 minutes before they are married. “When we met, I warned him. I said,”I have my opinions,you may not like me.” But he was known for getting along with everyone. And he said, “Yes, I can handle you. ” He wasn’t ready at all.

After we were married, I had my books at home, but he never talked about them. He tolerated it, but told his mother everything,” she told The New York Times.

Struggling to get pregnant, she is constantly criticized by her in-laws and refuses to leave her home. At the age of 19, she finally gave birth to a boy.

In 2006, she convinced her husband to let her study at Sarah Lawrence College. Her emancipation thus begins with contact with the university environment, she starts writing and even meets a publisher.

In September 2009, after a car accident, she decided to leave everything and go with her 3 year old son.

“It was my lawyer who urged me to write my book so that I could secure custody of my child. She told me that the only way to get out of it would be to make my story public,” she told Le Temps. Mission accomplished: her first book Unorthodox, released in 2012, became a bestseller. After the publication of her second book Exodus, she flies off to a new life in Berlin.


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