It’s been a very weird March.
We’ve gone back 50 years in less than 30 days.
‘Lockdown’ has returned me to my childhood.
I’m reminded of the house of my grandparents. The pace of life was slow. Most energy was spent on domestic tasks. There were hardly any cars in the road outside. On Sundays everything was shut. It was quiet.
Up pops on Netflix a show called ‘Unorthodox’ which features the lives of people in a closed Jewish community in New York.
What’s weird about it is how the clothes and the sets also remind me of my childhood – the conservative dress, the austere rooms, the emotional repression.
My parents were afraid of their parents. Everyone was worried what the neighbours might think.
I boarded at an all boys school. We never met girls. Our whole lives were focused on study. The expression of any emotion was frowned upon.
The world of Orthodox Jews feels familiar to me.
The drama focuses on Esty’s desperate attempt to break free from the rigid community she grew up in.
She surfaces in the diverse, open, modern, tolerant and youthful society of Berlin.
This is contrasted with the fixed roles, duties, rigidity and intolerance of her Jewish community.
In February, most of us would have nodded our heads and felt a sense of satisfaction – aren’t we Western liberals superior?
But then March happened.
We’ve woken up in a world obsessed with survival.
We’ve had draconian restrictions imposed upon us. The shops and restaurants have dropped out of our lives. The sport and live entertainment industries have closed down.
We’re desperate to conform to the expectations of neighbours and not been seen to be irresponsible in these dangerous times.
And lots of people are liking it.
We’ve had to forget about our ambitions, we don’t have the pressure to be anywhere by any time, we have to focus on our families and our gardens.
My wife said the other day: ‘Maybe this is the end of the consumer society’.
She said that approvingly.
On the political stage, we now have Orban imposing dictatorship in Hungary.
I mentioned this to my Czech neighbour – she didn’t have a problem with it.
‘The old Eastern European countries like being told what to do.’
‘Unorthodox’ dramatises the conflicts within Esty very well.
At the end, her emotionally-repressed husband begs her to return to New York.
In February, the answer was obvious, now we’re in March, it’s not clear at all.
It’s not about liberalism versus authoritarianism.
We have to acknowledge that there remains, even in the 21st century, a longing for both.
Another very uncomfortable contrast is between the repressive culture of Williamsburg and the individualistic culture of Berlin.
This comes out when we learn that Esty is pregnant.
The German doctor makes the assumption that Esty is going to have a abortion, but she turns on the doctor and says that her job is to restore the six million who died in the Holocaust.
That line made me feel very uncomfortable.
Within the Hasidic community women are expected to get married young and have lots of children.
It’s a society obsessed with continuing ‘life’ to the detriment of individuality.
Whereas we, in liberal Western society, have cherished the idea of freedom and self-fulfilment.
Over the past 30 days the foundations of our world have been shaken.
By coincidence, this wonderful TV series has emerged during this time.
It embodies the complexities of our new world.
We’re going to have to adjust rapidly.
You can watch ‘Unorthodox’ on Netflix