I've just finished watching 'Unorthodox'. This is a Netflix series based on the life of Deborah Feldman, a young woman who escaped the extreme Hasidic Jewish sect that she was born into.
The Satmar community are based in Wlliamsburg, New York. Their arranged marriages take place age 17. Wives are expected to be homemakers and get pregnant asap. Their native language is Yiddish.
Deborah has a mother with German citizenship who's long left New York, so she manages to get a passport and after the sort of struggle you'd expect, she sets up a new life for herself and her child in Berlin (she's pregnant at the time).
The series is well done and hits all my major areas of interest; coming of age, reclaiming motherhood from the patriarchy, and the importance of individuality/creativity.
Oh, and intricate, amazing costumes like shtreimel hats and intricately laced and pearled dresses.
It also reminds me of how much I love Berlin. I've been several times and I'm always struck by the intelligence and power of the city. Since the reparations of World War Two, Germany has recovered and become a success story, building up a strong economy based largely on pharmaceuticals.
This amongst other factors like lots of intensive care beds might be why they're doing so well in terms of the COVID-19 death rate. As soon as this is over I'll be taking my partner to have a look around again (he speaks a bit of German so he can make himself useful).
The complexity of a Jewish woman returning to Berlin for refuge is examined in the story, and it's set around a bigger story of Jewish roots in Germany.
One of the things that surprised me about the series is Deborah's force of character.
I guess I expected a young woman running away from a sect to be underconfident. She's been made to shave her hair and wear a wig as a sign of modesty, so people ask her if she's a cancer patient. But there's a spirit to her character. I've read some of Deborah's autobiography and it's clear from the way she writes that this is just how she's made; a lively, animated person.
Another thing that interested me is the director's choice to adapt the story to include an audition at the Berlin Academy of Music.
Deborah's fictionalised counterpart is called Esther and she's been secretly taking music lessons outside her community. In the end, Esther sings for a group of music professors and though we don't find out what happens, the implication is she's got a scholarship and won a new existence.
Essentially, she's used music as a way of keeping her identity intact until she's an adult.
In real life, Deborah used writing to do the same thing.
This is something we all have a feel for, which is why it's such a regular troupe. Creativity can help us. The experience of writing a novel in one-hour segments while being a practising midwife and/or running a business taught me a lot about self-expression keeping you afloat.
I think a regular writing practice has been a key part of retaining my integrity and wellbeing and I have so many thoughts on why this is.
We've got to the stage in the pandemic where most people's adrenaline has fallen off a little. We're realising it's a marathon rather than a sprint.
I can't think of a more important time for midwives and students to be claiming a few minutes here and there to make art.
Having a creative project to come back to has saved my sanity on more occasions than I care to remember.
Midwives and students have extraordinary stories to tell. But I know there are barriers to starting and finishing projects, not least time and energy restraints, but also professional boundaries and fear of doing the wrong thing.
This is a path I'm very familiar with.
If you're wanting to start recording what's going on for you, or to restart a project you know is important, I'd be thrilled to help.
At the end of 'Unorthodox', the song Esther chooses to audition with is is 'Mi Ban Siach', translated as 'He Who Understands'.
This is sung at Orthodox Jewish weddings. It's ironic because it's supposed to be a blessing to a young bride and groom from older male members of the community. Esther has claimed it to bless her own path in life.
There are always of being creative with the cards we are dealt.
I hope you're safe and well,
All my best,