The Arty Semite

Orthodox in Israel, Secular in Kathmandu

By Anne Joseph


Courtesy Anna Wexler

At 8 years old, Anna Wexler wanted to be a great Torah scholar. At 12 she started to question her faith, and by 16 she was an atheist. It was at this point that Wexler decided to break away from her Modern Orthodox, New Jersey upbringing, to live a life with no rules and no limits.

Gravitating towards others like her, she says they went “pretty wild.’” But during their gap year, a significant change occurred. While she was travelling in Kathmandu, her rebellious friends had “flipped out” in Israel. Having gone to yeshiva, they had become religious, and exchanged their former lifestyle for one of modest dress and Torah study. It led Wexler to question why, and forms the subject of her debut documentary, “Unorthodox.”

The film has had several successful U.S. film festival screenings, including at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and DOC NYC. It will receive its U.K. premiere later this month during the U.K. Jewish Film Festival.

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Friday Film: Orthodox, More or Less

By Raphael Magarik

“Unorthodox,” a documentary film by Anna Wexler and Nadja Oertelt, is named both for its subjects — questioning and rebellious Orthodox youth — and for its own production process. The film follows three Orthodox teenagers as they become more religious during their “gap years” in Israeli yeshivot, but their stories are filtered through Wexler’s own narrative of leaving Modern Orthodoxy after high school. A personal project, “Unorthodox” has been seven years in the making and still isn’t done. It’s both Wexler and Oertelt’s first film; after years of funding difficulties, they’ve recently raised the $16,000 for an editor using Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform for creative projects.

Wexler grew up in New Jersey keeping Shabbat, wearing skirts knee-length or longer, and praying daily at her Orthodox day school. But after finding that her religious classes clashed with what she was learning in science and history, she began to doubt them. Over time, she gave up Shabbat and kashrut practices, transferred to a public high school, and found others like her.

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