Not long ago, I saw a young woman in hasidic garb on the plaza outside Lincoln Center. She was sitting at the top of the steps with a cup and a cardboard sign, her long skirt spread around her. I wasn’t surprised—young people are leaving hasidic communities in a steady stream, and those who leave often lose their support system, with little or no education or skills. She wore a look of abject shame. Or perhaps it was despair, her eyes trained on the ground.
I pictured her as I watched the recent Netflix series Unorthodox. In an accompanying documentary, director Maria Schrader said that television is “aspirational.” Aspirational stories have a simple shape—the heroine escapes a monster and finds her way to freedom. At the end of Unorthodox, the heroine, Esty, fingers a compass given her as a gift and smiles.