I had read the book a couple of years ago, shortly after publication, so I was curious when I learned that Netflix had produced a mini-series based on Deborah Feldman's story.

Esty, the main character in the mini-series, is a member of the Satmar community of Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. I've been mildly curious about and fascinated by this exotic culture, so unlike my own. So I was happy that I had the time this week to watch the entire series.

Make no mistake, the mini-series is in the spirit of Deborah's story; it is not her story. It was one of those rare occasions when I got more out of the "movie" than I did from the book. It is so well done, and Shira Haas, who plays Esty, gives a very moving performance.

I've thought about the story since watching it. It doesn't seem to want to leave me.

Here are some of the thoughts:

  • Unorthodox is not a story about the oppression of women by a patriarchal religion. It is a story about a woman who breaks free from oppression. I believe there's a difference.
  • The culture is totally focused on the letter of the Biblical law and the subjugation of women is one of the casualties of that law. It is not a situation where the driving force is to "put women in their place."
  • So many of the women seemed to be completely accepting of their place and the roles assigned to them. How can it be that there wasn't even one peer that Esty could talk with about how she felt?
  • One of the women mentioned that after giving birth, a woman had a little more power, having proven herself. 
  • The Amish, a group with which I am more familiar, have something called "rumspringa," a period during late adolescence where the boys and girls have an opportunity to experiment outside their faith before making a life-long commitment. The Satmar, of course, do not have such a provision.
  • This question from a review I read: "How do you thread the needle and tell a story like this one without vilifying an entire culture?" 
  • The Hasidic people defer to a kind of "super rabbi" much the way the Amish look to their bishops to interpret religious law. How do these men handle the immense power that they have? I want to believe they have no ulterior motives, that they are sincere, that they are earnest.
  • And, following up on the previous thought, Jim Jones comes to mind.
  • And the guy in Florida, the pastor who insisted on holding services in the face of the isolation policy. Will he soon be saying it was God's will for the church members to get this illness?
I don't feel like I am finished, but this will have to do. I recommend the mini-series. It is four episodes. Four heartbreaking episodes. But so well done.


Janet O. said…
Sounds fascinating, Nancy!
Mrs. Goodneedle said…
I will check it out. Right now I'm not sure I'm up for HEARTBREAKING; but I take your recommendation and remember it as a good one. Currrently, I am thoroughly enjoying Call The Midwife-- thanks for that tip! :)
Carol said…
Just finished the series last night on your recommendations. What an amazing story! Loved the character Esty. I also watched the piece at the end on making of the series. That was enlightening as well. It is all so foreign to how I was raised, as well as my beliefs. This one will stay with me a long time. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the series. Not sure I could read the book now.