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Thoughts on Unorthodox

Exactly zero people have asked me for my opinions, but I just finished it and I found it very powerful. Spoilers, obviously.

I appreciated the general portrayal of the Hasidic community. From my point of view, it didn’t demonize it, but didn’t hesitate to criticize it, either. I felt like it was deeply sympathetic to individual characters, but not necessarily the community itself, although there was clearly joy and love present at the wedding. The show highlighted virtues within the community that I believe are deeply valuable, like faith, commitment to each other, conviction in one’s beliefs, etc. And each of the Satmar characters were individuals, with individual motivations, convictions, feelings, etc.

Moishe’s character was perhaps the most compelling to me, perhaps because he was the most complicated and confusing. The very short and unexplained scene in Berlin where he bathes in the river and asks G-d for help added depth to him, and turned him from a pure villain to a conflicted villain. The irony inherent a person who can’t stick to the rules of their community, but is dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to bring someone else back to the fold really stuck out to me

I found it interesting that the only conservatory student who was cruel to Esty was Yael, the Israeli. Once again, the show succeeded in portraying Jews as diverse individuals, and the brief reference to the IDH subtly highlighted the differences between two very different Jewish communities.

I really sympathized with Esty’s family. They were already partially treated as outcasts because of Leah leaving the community and Mordecai’s addiction, and the aunt and grandmother (I don’t remember their names) were trying their hardest to fit in and help Esty fit in. Their problem was that although the loved Esty and wanted only the best for her, they and Esty disagreed about what “the best” was. It broke my heart for the grandmother to hang up the phone when Esty allowed herself to be vulnerable (and arguably weak). The extended heart attack/ death sequence showed how much the show cared about these individuals.

As a former serious musician, Esty switching from piano to voice at the last minute really frustrated me. As mean as she was, Yael did have a point– it’s hopeless to even think you could get into a conservatory without literal years of training and hard practice. But that’s not really what the show was about. And Netflix didn’t have subtitles for the Yiddish song at the audition, which really took away the emotional punch.

Speaking of Yiddish, I think it’s amazing, and a risky but worth it artistic choice, to have most of the dialogue be in Yiddish. It tells the viewer that the story isn’t about them. By not catering to the audience’s wishes, it says “this story is about and for Jews. You can watch if you want, but we’re not toning ourselves down for you.”

Anyway, I really enjoyed the show. There are four hour-long episodes, so it’s not a huge time commitment if you want to watch it.

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