Unorthodox

Diversity Book Review
Reviewer: Liz Rubin, Director, Advanced Analytics Performance
Title: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
Author: Deborah Feldman

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman is a biography about a young woman breaking through deep cultural norms and religious beliefs. The book was published in 2012 and became the basis for the recent Netflix streaming sensation, Unorthodox.

Esty is the central character on the Netflix series inspired the author. Both are married at a very young age. Both loathe being judged by friends and family, feel abandoned by their mother and long for something else. They don’t fit in with the expectations of their community.

Anyone from the outside might label the Satmar Hassidic Jewish community with words like ‘extreme’, ‘insular’ or ‘ultra-orthodox’ based on Deborah’s words or Esty’s experiences. Rather than engaging in debate about those specifics or other potential controversies, the themes that abound are the forward-looking energy, sheer bravery and strength of human spirit.

In the Netflix series, Esty joins a prestigious music conservatory in Germany and follows her passions in music against incredible odds. Deborah shares an experience in the book when facing a near-death accident on the New Jersey turnpike. Deborah and Esty courageously seek freedom, shared in the poignant moments of the book and the streaming series.

This narrative sparks the reader to try something new and challenge the norms, even in the most difficult situations. Deborah Feldman’s words are an inspiration. Her book is well-written and asks us to consider even the most difficult topics in our own societal sphere. If you have time, I highly recommend reading both the book and watching the Netflix series to further explore these powerful themes and unlock a bit of Deborah (or Esty) in all of us.