5 differences between Netflix's Unorthodox and the true story behind it.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s new series, Unorthodox.

In the past month, there have been two Netflix series that everyone has been talking about: Tiger King and Unorthodox.

While one focuses on the controversial big cat community, the other explores the conservative Yiddish speaking Satmar community in Brooklyn. And it’s not hard to see why people are obsessed with it.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Unorthodox follows the story of 19-year-old Esther ‘Esty’ Shapiro and her escape from a strict Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood.

The four-part Netflix series is based on the real life story of Deborah Feldman, as documented in her 2012 memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots.

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s Unorthodox here. Post continues below. 

Video by Netflix

Deborah and her on-screen counterpart Esty (played by Shira Haas) both grew up in the Satmar community, which was founded by Holocaust survivors after World War II on the belief that Hitler’s extermination of the Jews was God’s punishment for European Jewish assimilation.

But while the series is loosely based on Deborah’s memoir, there are some details that were changed and even left out entirely.

Here are five differences between Netflix series Unorthodox and the real life story it was based on.

1. Deborah didn’t flee to Berlin when she was 19 and pregnant.

In Unorthodox, Esty leaves her husband and flees to Berlin when she was 19 and pregnant. But it wasn’t until the eve of Deborah’s 23rd birthday, that she finally left her marriage and religion for good with her three-year-old son.

First Deborah moved with her husband to an Orthodox community in Rockland County in New York, where the rules were a bit more relaxed. While she was there she took up writing classes and learnt how to drive.

Five years later she decided to leaver her husband and move to Berlin with her son.


The storyline where Esty flees and is taken in by a group of music students in Berlin was deliberately added to the script for creative purposes.

“It was a decision we [co-creator’s Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski] made together early on. In part to protect my privacy, but also because we wanted to carve out a space for other people who had left the community to be able to identify with Esty, to be able to see themselves in her story,” Deborah told Digital Spy.

Etsy and Yanky wedding
Esty and the husband that was picked for her Yanky on their wedding day. Image: Netflix.

2. Deborah decided to leave her husband after a car accident.

The reason Deborah decided to leave her husband also differed from Esty's in the TV series.

Deborah told the New York Post she made the decision to leave her husband for good, after she was involved in a bad car accident on a New Jersey highway.

“I was convinced I was going to die. And there was no way I was going to waste another minute of life," she said.

Deborah told the publication that she had asked her husband to change the tires on the car for several months.

"Our son could have been in that car," she said.

Deborah stayed with her mum before moving in with a friend.

She took her son and some garbage bags filled with clothes, changed her phone number and her address, and didn't tell anyone where she was going.

"While I was there," she said, "I was like, ‘This is it. I’m not going back.'"

3. Deborah didn't confront her husband in the same way Esty did.

Esty and Yanky
Deborah admits she's jealous of Esty's confrontation with her husband Yanky in a Berlin hotel room. Image: Netflix.

There is a moment near the end of the series where Esty confronts her husband in his Berlin hotel room. It's a moment Deborah wishes she got to have in real life.

"I never had a moment like that. I had many small moments where I tried to express myself, and I tried to speak up for myself, but I love how she just lets it all out. It really touched me, and it made me wish I had been the same way. It made me admire her," she told Metro.

Deborah also told The New York Times that she is jealous of Esty's confrontation and she hopes "that other people will see that scene and want to be like her, too".

4. Why details about Deborah's life in an Orthodox Jewish community were left out. 

Like Esty, Deborah was brought up in the Satmar community and had to follow strict guidelines including what she wore and where she was allowed to go.

But broader details about the community and the members itself aren't shown in the series.

"When you're watching the series, you don't really meet anyone far beyond Esty's family. The community is there in the background, but it never confronts you. You have a rabbi, but you don't see her in school, you don't see anyone in the synagogue," Deborah told The New York Times. 

"It's not about explaining the world in which the story takes place. It's just about the story itself."


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5. Deborah dreamt of becoming a writer, whereas Etsy wants to be a pianist.

In the Netflix series, Esty falls in love with playing the piano after she learns to play the instrument from her teacher. She later becomes close with a group of music students in Belin and decides to apply for a scholarship at the same academy as them.

But in real life, Deborah was always passionate about writing rather than music. At one point, she even convinced her husband to let her take business classes at Sarah Lawrence College, but actually enrolled in a philosophy course instead.

Despite the differences between the series and her real-life experiences, Deborah told Digital Spy she believes the series was an "accurate depiction".

“However, I don't believe that total accuracy is ever possible in representation because to achieve total accuracy, you have to sacrifice the narrative completely," she added.

She also told The Guardian she is happy with the way the story turned out.

"I think it has contributed to the cultural dialogue in such a way as to be able to transform it, and that is the highest goal of art for me," she said.

Unorthodox is currently available to stream on Netflix. 

Feature Image: Netflix/ Instagram @deborah_feldman

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