Sunday, January 23rd | 21 Shevat 5782

September 30, 2020 5:33 am

An ‘Unorthodox’ Lesson for Netflix’s Esty

avatar by Ayelet Raymond


Shira Haas in “Unorthodox.” Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Maria Schrader may have won an Emmy for directing Unorthodox, but that doesn’t mean there will be any more episodes of the Netflix hit. Apparently, its creators have decided not to pursue future seasons. However, as a formerly ultra-Orthodox person myself, my imagination has run miles with all of the ways Unorthodox might have continued.

The series, adapted from Deborah Feldman’s memoir of the same name, can inspire anyone going through a difficult time, and shows that translating emotions into writing can heal oneself.

Personally, I would like to see Esty use music to heal herself and reconnect with the spirituality she cut out of her life at the very beginning of season one. This focus on faith, inner peace, and happiness, will provide her with strength and make her journey much more enjoyable.

The scene where Esty went to dip in the Mikvah, a bathtub filled with ocean water for purification, was joyless. The Mikvah is a time-honored tradition for purification that many Jewish women embrace.

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Esty’s departure from Brooklyn to try out at a prestigious music school in Berlin represented a sharp turn that was unrealistic to me. I know several people who left the ultra-Orthodox community, and each of them needed a couple of years to take care of their own needs, find a job, and live on their own. It’s a big change for anyone, particularly for people who had their entire lives already planned out by their parents.

When I left Jerusalem to come to New York, it took me a few years to learn how to take care of my basic needs and my living situation, before I felt ready to pursue film school in Manhattan.

Esty threw herself into a new environment too quickly. Her adjustment reminds me of people who lose weight very fast on a crash diet, only to see the weight come back a short time later. Similarly, Esty will need to take things one step at time in order to maintain her own transformation, and fully process her external environment in order to achieve lasting change.

As I was trying to map out in my mind how Esty’s life would play out, I decided to call my childhood friend Hannah Hill, who had a role in Unorthodox as one of Yanky’s sisters-in-law. It gave us a chance to catch up and reflect on some of our shared dreams of a career in art years ago, when we both lived in Brooklyn. I wound up remaining in New York to attend film school, while Hannah returned back to Israel to attend acting school.

I was excited to hear about Hannah’s experience on the set meeting the cast and crew, and shooting in Germany. She told me it was inspiring to see how Germans, Jews, Americans, and Israelis came together on one project.  She shared her belief that “love is everywhere” — in both secular and religious communities — and that it is important to receive and spread love no matter where we are.

Based on my experience moving to another country like Esty did, the light and love that was missing in season one might be the best thing for Esty to connect with. Incorporating spirituality into my life is what helped to manage the ups and downs in a foreign country.  I learned that my past is part of my future, no matter how many miles away I am from Jerusalem.

If a second season of Unorthodox happens, I hope Esty will recognize that her past is what will power her future dreams.

Ayelet Raymond is a film and musical director who lives in New York City. She collaborated with young Broadway performers to create the American children’s television show My Hebrew Land. She is the creative force behind the Kosher Barbie character and social media personality. 

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