Julia Haart cherishes the positive reactions she has heard since the launch of her reality series, “My Unorthodox Life”, on Netflix. But the former Orthodox Jewish mother / yeshiva teacher and Monsey resident and fashion mogul is also keenly aware of the negative comments and admits she was surprised at the level of vitriol.
âI wonder if those who write on these topics have watched the show,â Haart said in a phone interview the same week his reality show launched. âI think if people actually watched the show they would see it’s very positive.
“I’m actually surprised by the attitude,” Haart said in a July 14 telephone interview as she prepared for a work trip to Europe. “I really thought people would give him a chance. There is no anger in my heart.”
The show is, in many ways, a typical reality TV dish: Haart leads a glamorous New York existence with fabulous jobs, four very different children, bringing their own drama, which she adores; a divorce and a second marriage which adds to the act of juggling work and personal life; and a best friend and confidant, Elite’s COO, Robert Brotherton, who adds new scenarios and offers opportunities to provide âoutsideâ definitions and translations for Orthodox Jewish life.
Haart said her problem was not being religious and stressed that she would always support her children. âThe religious in my family were so respectful to each other. “
But, she added, “I just want to get rid of the fundamentalist part.” This holds true for fundamentalism in any religion that restricts the choices, roles and freedom of women.
Many in the Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey and beyond, however, say Haart’s reality show generalizes and simplifies in ways that are not accurate and could fuel harmful stereotypes.
“I recognize that she may have had her own negative experiences, pains and difficulties in the Orthodox community,” said Alexandra Fleksher, a writer and educator who hosts the “Normal Frum Women” podcast. “I can respect that.”
But, Fleksher added, many Orthodox women pursue their goals, including higher education and powerful careers. “Please don’t speak for all of us and paint those broad brushstrokes. This is not orthodoxy.”
At this point, Fleksher began the campaign #viemyorthodox and #thisisorthodox to respond to the gloss of âMy Unorthodox Lifeâ. Fleksher was also a student at the Atlanta yeshiva where Haart once taught. Like many former Haart students, Fleksher said she has a good relationship with Haart.
âWhen we see stereotypes and misinformation about us as a community, we feel misrepresented,â Fleksher said. “We want to stand up for our stories.”
Fleksher has said that whether Haart likes it or not, she has become a spokesperson for Orthodoxy.
âI’m not going to downplay the fact that our community doesn’t have areas where we need to improve,â Fleksher said. “We do.” But Jewish women are more than the stereotypes she thinks “My Unorthodox Life” perpetuates.
Instead of tropes and stereotypes, Fleksher said the general public should be given the opportunity to understand that Orthodox Judaism is very diverse. âShe has a responsibility if she’s going to create a reality TV show to somehow express that nuance,â Fleksher said. “I think it’s damaging that we have a Jewess herself who promotes stereotypes.”
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Haart supports her show and says she won’t back down on her love of Judaism. “I have so much love in my heart for my people, for being a Jew.”
But, she’s also strong in her own journey.
“If I was worried about the people who thought of me,” Haart adds, “I would never have left.”
Monsey’s life and the pushback
Haart said those wondering if she was really as observant and restricted as her past life is portrayed in a reality series are missing the point.
Trying to live up to the measures taken in her Orthodox world, she said, “was killing me.” By the time she left, Haart said, she weighed 73 pounds. Suicide was on her mind every day, she said, but she couldn’t take such a step which would be against Jewish law. Instead, Haart said, she was wasting away.
She also said that her religiosity changed at different times in her life.
âYes, it’s very true that once I hit my 30s and became more modern Orthodox,â Haart said. âI slowly started to expose myself more to the outside world. But you have to understand the exposure to the outside – it’s like watching a whale documentary, like watching another world. was still me, my nose pressed against the glass. the bakery inside but never tasting the croissant. “
According to online discussions from Monsey-based moms and several articles from those who claimed to be close friends during Haart Monsey’s time, she stood out even as a young woman and a yeshiva teacher.
Haart has seen such comments. She rejects critical comments which claim that she was never ultra-Orthodox, that she always dressed in fashion (which she takes as a compliment) and that her “modern” life was not. not limited to education or career opportunities.
“The reason people wonder what I’m not talking about,” said Haart, “is because I didn’t want to bring negative exposure to the community.”
She doesn’t speak negatively about herself Education of Bais Yaakov, for example. Her own experience, which she believes may be different from others, is that she received the message that her future was limited.
Roselyn Feinsod is an Orthodox Jewish woman living in Monsey and director of Ernst & Young in Manhattan. She also attended school in Monsey and was friends for most of her adult life. “We go back a long way and were very close in the decade before Julia entered a new life.”
The impression that Haart’s extended family and friends had limited educational opportunities is just not true, Feinsod said. “They can make a choice regarding their own religion but should not do so at the cost of attacking the Monsey community or Orthodox Jews as fundamentalists.”
Feinsod said the Monsey community she knows has made strong contributions to Rockland County, New York City, and the United States. âEvery time to say Monsey with disdain and chills, it’s painful,â Feinsod said. “I think we have a lot to be proud of.”
Haart admitted that her life was not as constrained as some and that she always loved fashion and dressed her best âwithin the limits of the lawsâ. But, she added, “I got in trouble for this all the time.”
She added, “I love being Jewish. I think there is something wrong and I want to fix it.”
Who are the Haarts?
Haart immigrated to the United States with her family from the former Soviet Union when she was little. When she was 11, the family moved to Monsey.
At 19, she married her first husband, Yosef Hendler. He still lives in Monsey.
Haart said in the interview that her former husband and father of four children is “a lovely person”.
Hendler appears in various episodes and in some ways steals the season finale. He is seen having sensitive discussions with his children and Julia on a range of family and religious topics.
Haart, now 50, left Monsey and Orthodox Judaism at 42.
In 2013 Haart launched a shoe collection and in 2016 she joined the prestigious Italian fashion house La Perla.
Today, she is CEO of Elite World Group, which bills itself as the world’s leading Talent Media company, representing a powerful roster of personalities in fashion, entertainment and culture. Haart recently launched a bespoke fashion brand, e1972.
The business is owned by her husband, Silvio Scaglia Haart, but Julia Haart points out that she made her fashion and business name, and her journey from Monsey, long before she met him.
Her children are key players on the reality show and, in some ways, represent at least part of the complex continuum of Jewish observance:
- The oldest, Shlomo, recently graduated from Columbia University and was planning to study law. He continues to observe the Sabbath, but follows a more modern Orthodox path, including occasional encounters.
- Batsheva and her husband, Ben, who had just married when Julia Haart left the community, see themselves as religious in the faith but do not follow most guidelines on clothing and other choices. Batsheva is a social media influencer.
- Miriam, who Julia says challenged many Orthodox Jewish traditions at a young age, is a student at Stanford University in computer science. His discussions of being bisexual and his decision to legally change his last name to Haart provided a key plot development for the series.
- Aron resides in Monsey with his father and attends a mixed yeshiva. The teenager remained an observer, but at one point appeared to be more observant than his Orthodox upbringing. He continues to lead an Orthodox life; Last week Julia mentioned that the family was going to have dinner at a kosher steakhouse because Aron was joining them.
It is not known if a second season will be produced. But Haart’s story is far from over. His thesis, “Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie”, is due for publication.
And she is committed to continuing to help women who want to leave a fundamentalist life if they so choose.
âIn terms of helping individuals, I want to create some kind of safe space, where I can hire a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist,â Haart said, to offer professional support. âI know how I felt when I left. I was suicidal. I was not well,â referring to the personal feelings that led her to leave.
âEveryone’s journey is so different,â added Haart. “For me, my job is to open the door.”
Nancy Cutler writes on People & Policy. Click here for his latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.