Feldman was very involved behind the scenes of Unorthodox, which was produced by her two friends, Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski.
“We wanted Esther’s Berlin life to be very different from the real Deborah’s Berlin life,” Winger explains in Making Unorthodox.
The team decided to center Esty’s journey around a music school in Berlin, where she meets a group of supportive friends and competes for a scholarship. All the while, she is being chased down by Yanky and his relentless cousin Moishe (played by German-Israeli actor Jeff Wilbusch).
In real life, Feldman left the Hasidic community in stages. She and her husband left Williamsburg in 2006 for Manhattan, where she began taking classes at Sarah Lawrence College. That experience gave her a taste for life outside of the insular community, she recalls.
“They told me everyone out there hated me, that they would judge me by my costume, that they would hate me because I was Jewish,” she told PEOPLE. “I get to Sarah Lawrence, I know I look different, I’m wearing a wig, I’m looking Hasidic, wearing long skirts … but the women, oh my God, they were warm and wonderful and intelligent and welcoming! And I’m like, the world is nice! It’s a nice place, I really like it!”
A serious car accident gave Feldman the final jolt to start her new life. With the support of friends and faculty, she left her husband when she turned 23.
“The funny thing about having a brush with death is that it makes you rethink your life, you stop pushing things off,” she recalled to PEOPLE. “So the very next day, I sold my jewelry, I rented a car and I just left and it was that simple and I couldn’t believe it after.”
In Unorthodox, Esther is helped by her mother and piano teacher in her journey.
Feldman, now 33, moved with her son Isaac in 2014 to Berlin, where she continues to write. Her second memoir, 2014’s Exodus, details their adjustment to secular life.
“I’m not here to bash or hurt anyone,” she told PEOPLE. “I’m actually here to open a dialogue, to encourage a little bit of reform, a little bit of change.”
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