Unorthodox (miniseries)

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Unorthodox Title Card.png
Created by
Inspired byUnorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman
Written by
  • Anna Winger
  • Alexa Karolinski
Directed byMaria Schrader
Country of origin
  • Germany
Original languages
  • English
  • Yiddish
  • German
No. of episodes4
Executive producers
  • Anna Winger
  • Henning Kamm
ProducerAlexa Karolinski
Running time52–54 minutes
Production companies
  • Studio Airlift
  • Real Film Berlin Gmbh
Original networkNetflix
Original releaseMarch 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Unorthodox is a German drama television miniseries that debuted on Netflix on March 26, 2020. The first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish, it is inspired by Deborah Feldman's 2012 autobiography, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. The four-part miniseries was created and written by Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, and directed by Maria Schrader.

The series received eight Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series (Shira Haas), and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series (Anna Winger), winning for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series (Maria Schrader).


Esty, a 19-year-old Jewish woman, is living unhappily in an arranged marriage among the Satmar sect of the ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.[1] She runs away to Berlin, where her estranged mother lives, and tries to navigate a secular life, discovering life outside her community and rejecting all of the beliefs she grew up with.[2] Her husband, who learns that she is pregnant, travels to Berlin with his cousin, by order of their rabbi, to try to find her.[3]

Cast and characters[edit]



  • Alex Reid as Leah Mandelbaum
  • Ronit Asheri as Malka Schwartz
  • Gera Sandler as Mordechai Schwartz
  • Dina Doron as Esty's grandmother ("Bubbe")
  • Aaron Altaras as Robert
  • Tamar Amit-Joseph as Yael Roubeni
  • Aziz Dyab as Salim
  • David Mandelbaum as Zeidy
  • Delia Mayer as Miriam Shapiro
  • Felix Mayr as Mike
  • Lili Rosen as Rabbi Yossele
  • Safinaz Sattar as Dasia
  • Langston Uibel as Axmed
  • Isabel Schosnig as Nina Decker
  • Laura Beckner as Vivian Dropkin
  • Harvey Friedman as Symcha Shapiro
  • Lenn Kudrjawizki as Igor
  • Yousef "Joe" Sweid as Karim Nuri


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Part 1"Maria SchraderAnna WingerMarch 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

On a Sabbath day, 19-year-old Esty Shapiro, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish married woman, flees her home in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, section of New York City with only a handful of possessions. She takes a plane to Berlin, where her estranged mother lives, but runs away before they can meet after seeing her mother kiss her female partner. At a coffee shop, Esty meets Robert, a young man ordering many coffees. She helps him take coffee to his friends who are waiting at a nearby music conservatory where they all study. Esty sneaks into their rehearsal, and is deeply moved by their music. After the rehearsal, she hears the group announce they are going to the beach, and asks to come along. At the beach, Esty removes her sheitel as she bathes in the water, revealing her hair.

Back in Williamsburg, Esty's husband, Yanky Shapiro, discovers that she is missing, and runs to his family for help.

In a flashback, Esty prepares to marry Yanky, and is visited by her mother who gives her German citizenship papers, should she ever need them. Esty goes forward with her wedding.
2"Part 2"Maria SchraderAlexa Karolinski
Anna Winger
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Esty is discovered sleeping overnight in the conservatory. She is encouraged to apply for a hardship scholarship given to talented refugees and musicians in other difficult circumstances. Esty decides to go forward as she plays the piano. When her conservatory friends invite her to dinner, they ask her to perform a piece. Esty is heartbroken when one of them, Yael, tells her that, while she is musical, her playing is merely adequate, and nowhere near good enough for the conservatory. She calls home for the first time, but is further distressed when her grandmother hangs up on her without speaking.

Yanky and his cousin Moishe fly to Berlin to try to retrieve Esty, and Yanky is stunned by Moishe's worldly ways.
3"Part 3"Maria SchraderAnna Winger
Alexa Karolinski
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)

Esty decides to withdraw her application for the conservatory, but the woman processing her application convinces her to continue with it. She goes to a club to see Yael performing, and is spotted by Moishe, who has succeeded in tracking her down. Esty leaves with Robert before Moishe can confront her. When they return to Robert's apartment, Robert and Esty share an intimate encounter.

In a flashback, Esty's marriage begins to crumble almost as soon as it starts, as she cannot have sex with Yanky because she finds it painful. She is eventually told that she is suffering from vaginismus. After a particularly angry fight with Yanky, Esty urges him to complete sex with her, despite her horrific pain.
4"Part 4"Maria SchraderAlexa Karolinski
Anna Winger
March 26, 2020 (2020-03-26)
Moishe finally tracks down Esty, and threatens her, telling her she will have nothing if she doesn't return to her husband. In distress, Esty finally contacts her mother, who promises to support her and her child. Esty decides to go through with her audition, switching her discipline from the piano to voice. After her audition, she is approached by Yanky, who begs her to come home with him. Promising to change, Yanky cuts off his payot, but Esty tells him it is too late for them and leaves to start her new life.


The series was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, who left the Satmar movement, a Hasidic community in New York City.[4] The show has language switching from English to Yiddish to German.[2] The show was written by Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, directed by Maria Schrader, produced by Karolinski, and filmed in Berlin.[5] The music academy in Unorthodox is based on the Barenboim-Said Akademie.[6][7] Anna Winger told The Guardian: "There's a real music academy called the Barenboim-Said Akademie where Jews and Muslims play classical music together, like a whole utopia. We were inspired by this idea, as the sort of institution that could only begin in Berlin."[8]

Unorthodox is the first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish.[9][10]

Feldman approached writers Winger and Karolinski to turn her autobiography into a television series. They took on the project in part because the story meshed with several topics of mutual interest, especially the challenges of being Jewish in Germany. Winger said that the story "has a kind of doubling back on history", portraying a Jewish character who escapes the "confines of her own life" by returning "to the source of her community's trauma". Because Feldman is a public figure, the writers veered from her life in the fictional Berlin sequences, but based the flashbacks on the book.[11]

An early hire was actor and Yiddish specialist Lili Rosen, who translated the scripts, coached the actors, helped with cultural details, and played the rabbi. The production team took two research trips to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, touring buildings and meeting with the community of Satmar Jews, where part of the story is set. Cast in Germany, Jeff Wilbusch was unique among the four lead actors in being a native Yiddish speaker from the Satmar community (via the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem).[11]

Filming began in New York, then relocated to Berlin, where the production designer built interior sets at CCC Filmstudios[12] that synced with the Brooklyn exteriors. Berlin locations include Potsdamer Platz, which served as the set for the music academy and surroundings, and the Wannsee lake (Großer Wannsee), where, as referenced in the story, the "Final Solution" was planned at a shoreline villa.[13][11]

For the production and costume designers, the project presented the challenge of creating a period film set in the present day, with the main character gradually transitioning between them. The two-day filming of the wedding was a complex undertaking, involving about a hundred extras that had to accurately depict a nuanced cultural celebration. "The joke on the show was that the men required way more hair and make-up than the women", Winger said. Costume designer Justine Seymour obtained some of the clothes in Williamsburg, but not the costly fur hats, shtreimels, which were made by a Hamburg-based theater company, using fake fur, instead of minks.[11]


Critical response[edit]

Unorthodox received widespread critical acclaim. The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 96%, based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Unorthodox adapts its source material with extreme care, crafting a series that is at once intimate and urgent, all centered around Shira Haas' captivating performance."[14] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[15]

The miniseries has also been criticized for badly portraying the Hasidic community by Leah Aharoni, who said that the show's depiction of Orthodox / Haredi / Hasidic Jews resembled that of "primitive tribes",[16] and by Julie Joanes, who wrote that spiritual practices depicted in the show were taken out of context.[17]


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2020 German Television Awards Best Miniseries Anna Winger, Maria Schrader, and Rachel Eggebeen Nominated [18]
Best Actress Shira Haas Nominated
Best Production and Costume Design Silke Fischer (Production) and Justine Seymour (Costume) Won
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series Anna Winger, Henning Kamm, and Alexa Karolinski Nominated [19]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Shira Haas Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Anna Winger (for "Part 1") Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Maria Schrader Won
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special Esther Kling, Vicki Thomson, Maria Rölcke, and Cornelia Mareth Nominated
Outstanding Contemporary Costumes Justine Seymour, Simone Kreska, and Barbara Schramm (for "Part 2") Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score) Antonio Gambale (for "Part 1") Nominated
Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music Antonio Gambale Nominated
APRA Screen Music Awards Best Music for a Mini-Series or Telemovie Won [20]
Best Television Theme Won
2021 British Academy Television Awards Best International Programme Unorthodox Nominated [21]
Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Contemporary Television Justine Seymour (for "Part 2") Nominated [22]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Limited Series Unorthodox Nominated [23]
Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie Shira Haas Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Limited Series or Television Film Unorthodox Nominated [24]
Best Actress – Limited Series or Television Film Shira Haas Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Single Presentation Daniel Iribarren, Toby Bilz, Sebastian Morsch, Paul Rischer, Adrian Baumeister, Illia Popel, Dmytro Kniazhechenko, and Victor Shcheglov (for "Part 1") Nominated [25]
Gotham Independent Film Awards Breakthrough Series – Long Form Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, and Henning Kamm Nominated [26]
Independent Spirit Awards Best New Scripted Series Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, and Henning Kamm Nominated [27]
Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series Amit Rahav Won
Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series Shira Haas Won
Producers Guild of America Awards David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Limited Series Television Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinksi, and Henning Kamm Nominated [28]
Satellite Awards Best Miniseries & Limited Series Unorthodox Nominated [29]
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film Shira Haas Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries, or Television Film Jeff Wilbusch Won

Making Unorthodox documentary[edit]

Netflix released a 20-minute documentary, Making Unorthodox, that chronicles the creative process and filming of the miniseries, and discussed the differences between the book and the TV show.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Poniewozik, James (March 25, 2020). "Review: 'Unorthodox,' a Stunning Escape From Brooklyn". The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Wilkinson, Alissa (March 26, 2020). "Netflix's Unorthodox movingly captures the pain and power of leaving a strict religious community". Vox.
  3. ^ Keller, Joel (March 26, 2020). "Stream It Or Skip It: 'Unorthodox' On Netflix, Where A Hasidic Woman From Brooklyn Finds A New Life In Berlin". Decider. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Nicolaou, Elena (March 26, 2020). "Netflix's Unorthodox Is Inspired by the True Story of Deborah Feldman". Oprah Magazine. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  5. ^ Kohn, Eric (March 26, 2020). "'Unorthodox' Review: Netflix's Yiddish Miniseries Turns Hasidic Rebellion Into a Riveting Thriller". IndieWire. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  6. ^ Abeltshauser, Thomas (2020). "Weg vom Ufer". Der Freitag. No. 13. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  7. ^ Thomas Abeltshauser (March 22, 2020). "Maria Schrader: "Ich will den Blick auf die Dinge verändern"". Berliner Morgenpost. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  8. ^ Bramesco. Charles (March 26, 2020). "Unorthodox: behind the Deutschland 83 co-creator's new Netflix series". The Guardian. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  9. ^ "Netflix to release show about woman leaving Chassidic lifestyle, mainly in Yiddish". Jewish News Syndicate. March 11, 2020. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Saval, Malina (March 26, 2020). "'Unorthodox' Star Shira Haas Brings Yiddish, Hasidic Judaism, and Contemporary German Culture to Netflix". Variety. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d Marlene Melchior, writer & director (March 26, 2020). Making Unorthodox (Video). Netflix. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  12. ^ Tripathi, Prizmi (March 25, 2020). "Where Was Unorthodox Filmed? Netflix Filming Locations". The Cinemaholic. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  13. ^ Fienberg, Daniel (March 25, 2020). "'Unorthodox': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  14. ^ "Unorthodox: Miniseries (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  15. ^ "Unorthodox". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  16. ^ Aharoni, Leah (April 27, 2020). "Netflix's 'Unorthodox' Degrades Hasidic Jews into Caricatures". The Jewish Journal. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  17. ^ Joanes, Julie (April 30, 2020). "Everything "Unorthodox" gets wrong about being Orthodox". The Forward. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  18. ^ "Preisträger und Nominierte 2020" [Winners and Nominees 2020]. Deutscher Fernsehpreis (in German). Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  19. ^ "2020 Primetime Emmy® Awards – Nomination Press Release" (PDF). Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  20. ^ "Screen Music Awards: Full List of Winners & Nominees". APRA AMCOS Australia. 2020. Retrieved December 14, 2020.
  21. ^ "BAFTA TV 2021: Nominations for the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and British Academy Television Craft Awards". BAFTA. April 28, 2021. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  22. ^ Pedersen, Erik (March 4, 2021). "Costume Designers Guild Awards Nominations". Deadline. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  23. ^ Schneider, Michael (January 18, 2021). "'Ozark', 'The Crown', and Netflix Lead 26th Annual Critics' Choice Awards TV Nominations". Variety. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  24. ^ Oganesyan, Natalie; Moreau, Jordan (February 3, 2021). "Golden Globes 2021: The Complete Nominations List". Variety. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  25. ^ Pond, Steve (March 1, 2021). "'News of the World', 'Sound of Metal' Lead Motion Picture Sound Editors Nominations". The Retrieved March 4, 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ "Gotham Awards 2020". Gotham Awards. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  27. ^ Lewis, Hilary (January 26, 2021). "Film Independent Spirit Awards: 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always', 'Minari', 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom', 'Nomadland' Top Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  28. ^ Hill, Libby (March 8, 2021). "'Bridgerton' and 'Ted Lasso' Among PGA Awards TV Nominees". Indiewire. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  29. ^ Van Blaricom, Mirjana (February 1, 2021). "25th Satellite Awards Nominees for Motion Pictures and Television Announced". International Press Academy. Retrieved February 1, 2021.

External links[edit]