If you’ve watched Unorthodox, you may be obsessed with the super-talented Shira Haas, who plays Esty Shapiro — the show’s smoldering main character who leaves her ultra-Orthodox life to look for freedom and happiness in Berlin. While for many, Unorthodox is the first exposure to Shira Haas, she is actually an award-winning veteran Israeli actress (yes, at age 24), and it’s time everyone knew all about her.
So, without further ado, here are 18 things to know about the rising Israeli star. Yalla, let’s go:
1. She was born in 1995 in Tel Aviv, Israel, and her family moved to Ramat Hasharon shortly after. She’s the youngest of three siblings.
2. When she was 2 years old, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Three years later, she fully recovered, but Shira acknowledges that the experience marked her forever. “It made me more mature differently, and it shaped me,” she told Maariv.
3. Her experience with cancer is also the reason for her diminutive stature — the chemotherapy and treatment stunted her growth, though as she says, she is 20 cm (almost 8 inches) taller than what doctors expected her to be. (Her actual height is unclear; a site called Stars Wiki has her at 4’9″, while another site, Wiki Celebs, has her at 5’2″. Wiki Celebs also says she’s Christian, though, so take that with a grain of kosher salt.) Shira has said other petite actresses have inspired her, like Natalie Portman, who Haas later collaborated with (more on that later).
4. Shira wasn’t really the type of kid who put on plays at home. She has said she was very shy as a kid.
5. Her first professional acting roles were on the stage while she was still a high school student at the Israeli arts school Thelma Yellin. The plays included Ghetto (by Joshua Sonbol) and Shakespeare’s Richard the III.
6. Shira’s first movie role was the lead in Princess, a coming-of-age Israeli film directed by Tali Shalom Ezer, which premiered in the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2014 and later at Sundance in 2015. In the movie, Shira plays Adar, a 12-year-old girl whose games with her mother’s boyfriend turn sexually abusive. The movie received many accolades, and helped Haas book more roles.
7. Her television premiere was in the Israeli show Shtisel, which started in 2013. Shira plays Ruchami, a young ultra-Orthodox girl who is struggling to help her mom after her father abandoned them. The show was a hit in Israel, among religious and secular Jews alike, and when Netflix added it to its streaming service in 2019, it became an international sensation.
8. She’s the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. This past Holocaust Remembrance Day, she posted about how her 86-year-old grandmother was home alone: “Today we did a zoom call together because even in Corona times and especially on this day – We will never leave her alone,” she wrote, adding, “Never forget. Always remember.”
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Today is the Holocaust Remembrance Day. My grandmother, the love of my life and a 86 years old Holocaust survivor is in quarantine, without any family member. Today we did a zoom call together because even in Corona times and especially on this day – We will never leave her alone. Never forget. Always remember.
9. Shira played a Holocaust survivor in The Zookeeper’s Wife opposite Jessica Chastain. In the movie, Haas plays a Jewish rape survivor hiding in the Warsaw Zoo. The movie is based on the real life story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who rescued hundreds of Polish Jews by hiding them in the zoo. Shira says that Jessica did not know she was a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors when they started shooting the film together, and it added a special layer of meaning to the work on the movie. Shira says that she and Jessica had a “special intimacy, a connection without words. Even if you don’t see her in the frame, she find a way to be there with you 100%, she will be there on set and give her all.”
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I had the privilege to work with the fantastic Jessica Chastain in "The Zookeeper's Wife" back in 2016. We made a Q&A conversation via zoom a few days ago, and it's now available on Variety. Thank you, @jessicachastain not only for your enormous talent but also for your never-ending support and kindness ❤️. Link in my bio
10. Shira had a role in Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness. The work on set was only one day but it left Shira with a taste for more. “Portman is a role model, she was impressive and humble and real,” Shira told Ynet.
12. In Unorthodox, Shira’s character loves music and is finally able to pursue it in Berlin. But this wasn’t Shira’s only musical role. In The Conductors, she plays a member of a choir, whose director is played by Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi.
13. Shira is not only a great actor and singer; she’s super creative in many ways. She uses collage and art as a creative outlet. Here are some amazing Photoshop collages she made:
14. Shira is also super into poetry and quotes. She loves Israeli poets like Yona Wallach and Dahlia Ravikovitch, and to prepare for Unorthodox, she even read some Yiddish poetry.
15. Speaking of Unorthodox, Shira had to learn Yiddish for the show, which took months of intense labor. “I remember when I went running or jogging or to the gym, I wasn’t listening to gym music or Beyoncé — I listened to my Yiddish lines. It was important for me to know it in a perfect way — and it really happened,” she told me in March.
16. She won an Ophir (the Israeli Oscar) for her role in the 2018 movie “Noble Savage.”
17. She’s looking forward to Shtisel season 3. While the show was supposed to begin filming its third season in May of 2020, the coronavirus outbreak has put a hold on those plans, but the season is definitely happening eventually.
18. Like her idol, Natalie Portman, Shira also has aspirations of getting behind the camera and telling her own stories. “On the set of Unorthodox, whenever I had a break, I would look at the director and the cameraperson. I learned a lot from them,” she told Ynet.
Image via Larry Busacca / Staff / Getty Images