Fans of the Netflix series “Unorthodox,” wildly popular at the start of the pandemic, are reacting to a new portrayal, “My Unorthodox Life.” The new series premiered last month.
The former was fictionalized but based on a real woman’s book about her decision to leave behind Hasidism in Brooklyn. The latter is reality TV, a la “Jewish Kardashians,” told through the eyes and strident voice of fashion mogul Julia Haart, who shredded her interpretation of the “burden” of charedi Orthodoxy in 2013.
The drama unfolds, and perhaps the dénouement that disturbs some viewers, is deprogramming her family alongside. Special note: Haart taught at Yeshiva Atlanta under the name Talia Hendler in the late 1990s.
On the one hand, Russian-born Haart, 50, is charismatic as she shares her posh office space, runway shows, multi-million-dollar Tribeca digs, her gay best friend, and one daughter’s bisexuality. Alternatively, her other daughter’s struggle to become less observant pales to Haart’s treatment of her teen son. One of the most heart-rending scenes is when he returns from summer camp with a love of Torah and she won’t relinquish her angst. “You need to date girls and go out into the world before you decide any of this. I am older. I know better.”
Particularly irritating is her forced use of the “f” word, like teen boys cursing to be cool. Then there are her clothes: skirts, the shortest, and cleavage exposure. Having been in my own reality A&E show, “My Dog’s Bat Mitzvah,” I should note that the producers push to portray the most provoking and outrageous topics, like Haart’s sharing her honeymoon night details with her kids or teaching a questioning religious girl how to use a vibrator. On the other hand, we like the voyeurism of the rich lifestyle: renting a castle, closets of Balmain and Vuitton, suitcases of Chanel bags.
Haart achieved success initially without speaking of her religious Monsey past. Well, sort of; new husband Silvio Scaglia turns out to be (if Googled) a top-tier wealthy entrepreneur who bought the Elite World Group that she runs. At an earlier point, she did successfully launch La Perla clothing. Smart woman, no doubt.
Occasionally Haart charms when she explains the meaning of Sukkot or quotes Hebrew sages, such as: “All beginnings are difficult.” At meals, she points out the kosher food to the kids who want to remain so.
Haart is emotional in explaining that she was suicidal being trapped in her first marriage and not able to control her own destiny, which is the message she is carrying forth. Interestingly, Haart appeared on “The View” on ABC July 23, very tastefully dressed from her location in Paris. Her “affect” was in contrast to her reality boss persona.
Viewer Helene Cohen noted, “Watching the series made me realize how much the men feel they need to control the women under the guise that the women need protecting.”
Susan Proctor remarked, “I’m honestly not sure that I am intrigued enough to watch the whole thing. I watched the documentary ‘One of Us,’ which is an accurate depiction about ultra-Orthodox trying to withdraw from the sect. I think that Julia is the exception more than the rule. She is a self-promoter. It’s interesting that they did the show, and I may watch more of it.”
Dena Schusterman, executive director of Intown Jewish Preschool, recalled working with Haart (then Hendler) more than 25 years ago. “I am not watching ‘Unorthodox.’ I don’t watch reality TV; I am not going to start now.
“Talia was a brilliant teacher; as her colleague at Yeshiva Atlanta, I learned a lot from her. I was in my early 20s. She was ‘wicked smart’ and confident, the same as you see today.
“I really dislike labeling people, especially the label ‘Orthodox,’ in general. I would rather focus on what unites than what divides us. That we are different is a given. If American culture allows for someone to tell a story in this brazen, loud, over-the-top way, who am I to tell them not to? One thing the ‘frum’ world can take from this hullabaloo is to pop their bubble and go out into the world. Be friendly, get curious about the general population. I think in response to our real interactions with the world, without ulterior motives, we will, by default, introduce people to our nuanced and deep observant life.”
After the airing of “My Unorthodox Life” last month, social media lit up with accomplished observant women who declared, “I have a wonderful life, and no one is controlling me.” One teacher in Fort Lauderdale noted, “Some young girls do express to me their doubts about their path in Orthodoxy. I do not shut them down. I listen intently and say ‘That’s what makes Judaism so beautiful. You are allowed to question.’”
Bottom line: Like it or not, I watched with keen interest, but it felt like
Meghan Markle justifying her “dishing” to Oprah.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- “My Unorthodox Life”
- Julia Haart
- Yeshiva Atlanta
- Talia Hendler
- summer camp
- “My Dog’s Bat Mitzvah"
- Silvio Scaglia
- La Perla clothing
- "The View"
- Helene Cohen
- Dena Schusterman
- Intown Jewish Preschool
- Meghan Markle
- Oprah Winfrey