'Unorthodox' series review: A Rebel is Born

When a 17-year-old teen from a rigidly traditional Jewish family enters into an arranged marriage, her life is never the same again.

Published: 19th April 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2020 03:25 PM   |  A+A-

A still from 'Unorthodox'

A still from 'Unorthodox'

When a 17-year-old teen from a rigidly traditional Jewish family enters into an arranged marriage, her life is never the same again. The four-episode mini-series is largely inspired by Deborah Friedman’s autobiography, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. Esther Shapiro flees from her unhappy marriage to Yanky Shapiro, rejecting her somewhat cloistered lifestyle in Brooklyn, NYC, and flees to Berlin to begin life anew.

While the basic plot of a young woman seeking to find her own identity by moving away from her family, may not be the most original concept, it is still a story well told and works because Esther’s character is brought to life by the gifted Israeli actress Shira Haas, who plays the somewhat bewildered child-woman, whose illusions of marriage fall apart as reality plays havoc with her rose-tinted dreams.

Amit Rahav, also an Israeli artiste, who plays her husband, Yanky, manages to convey the dilemma of a man trapped between his wife and family. Yanky loves his wife but having being raised in a Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hassidic community, he is too weak to stand up for her.

Esther finds it hard to bury her dreams.Her desire to learn how to play the piano happens by chance. She accompanies her grandfather Mordecai to collect rent from one of his tenants. While the lady is unable to pay her dues, she offers to teach Esther for free.

Esty, as she is called, manages to keep this a secret for three years. She is raised by her single aunt Malka and grandmother Babby, whom she dotes on. Her parents split as her father is an alcoholic, while her German mother, Leah, divorces him and moves in with her live-in girlfriend in Berlin.

The relationship between mother and daughter is strained as she believes her mother abandoned her. And yet, like her mother, Esty seeks the help of her piano teacher to leave NYC and run away to Berlin as she has a German passport.

There she finds a bunch of great musician friends, and her identity, as she bravely navigates a new world. There are moments that are deeply moving like Esty’s desperate phone call to her grandmother who hangs up on her.

The defining moment is when a blunt friend tells her that her piano skills aren’t good enough for a scholarship. This is a defining moment as the series does not pander to the clichéd notions making averagely talented immigrants with sad stories happy. The intense confrontation between Yanky and Esty defines the ending for this drama but you need to watch it to figure it out.    


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