It’s hard to watch someone else depict painful experiences that you went through. How do you know they won’t take away your dignity by diminishing the experience? But when Shira Haas played Esty in Unorthodox, Netflix’s adaptation of my memoir on leaving my Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, I could see she had a reverence and respect for the material.
Shira has a way of bringing an intensity to the screen that’s incredibly convincing, no matter how far-fetched or strange a narrative can seem. As Shira inhabits Esty’s inner world, navigating the abandonment of her old life among the Satmar community and her transition to new experiences, she unpacks and destroys clichés about how we perceive those who are different from us. You can trust her with work that, in other hands, might come across as one-dimensional. As a result, audiences develop connections and associations with worlds they previously didn’t understand—that’s what Shira accomplished with the Hasidic community; that is what she can accomplish as an actress. And that’s a rare magic.
Feldman is the author of the memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots