Why Julia Haart has changed Orthodox Jewry

Sharon Schurder

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Netflix Official Trailer for My Unorthodox Life

Welcome to a Compilation of Essays in preparation for my ‘To Be a Jew’ Collection of Paintings, dropping 16th November 2021. In this Collection, I am exploring to be a Jew in 2021 amidst this monumental year of shift and change.

15 Second Background of TV Show ‘My Unorthodox Life’

  • Julia Haart is CEO of the global modeling agency Elite World Group whose chairman is her new Italian husband
  • She features in the reality TV documentary ‘My Unorthodox Life’ on Netflix, starring Julia and her family navigating their new lifestyle as liberated Jews
  • The Reality TV documentary has been nicknamed ‘The Jewish Kardashians’ due to the flamboyant nature of the characters, the endless profanity and the family’s dinner table topics ranging from their Hampton trip Helicopter rides to wedding night intimacy
  • She is previously known as Julia Leibov (Leibov means heart in Hebrew) or by her previous married name Talia Handler
  • She left the Orthodox Community stating that she felt imprisoned in an unhappy life and marriage
  • She has encouraged her teenage children to also follow suit and leave the Orthodox community of Monsey, New York behind

The show has created much unrest within the Orthodox Communities around the world. Besides for the usual opposition as to how Orthodox Judaism has been portrayed as fundamentalism, many have felt that Netflix is fueling further anti-Semitism at a time that is already fragile for the American Jewish population. In short, the show is the story of a mother that left Orthodox Judaism so that she could pursue her ambitions.

The backlash was strong

Truthfully I was disheartened to witness the backlash against Julia Haart’s My Unorthodox Life. Instead of defending Judaism, people went to great lengths to belittle her experiences.

The rally against Julia Haart and the accuracy of her story missed the point. It is usually the guilty that pick holes in the defence and tries to prove that the victim is lying. We should be above this. We should also put this show in the context of what it is, an opportunity for Netflix to show a Jewish version of ‘The Kardashians’. (Spoiler alert: I’ve never watched this particular show, but this is what I am told. No but really I haven’t! See comments further below).

But let’s first indulge in some fact finding

Let’s run through all those accusations being thrown at her, as to how she was this modern liberal socialite who had an incredible life in the Orthodox community and is now lying about it.

I have noted the main contentious issues so let’s analyse the topics of whether she did or she did not ride a bicycle, run in the street and watch TV shows. Is there anyone reading this brought up in the Orthodox world, from birth, who can say that the idealistic life of a Bas Yisroel (Daughter of Israel) is to:

  1. ride a bicycle
  2. run in the street and
  3. watch TV shows?

I know from personal experience that I was discouraged from riding a bike in case my skirt flew up whilst riding. And even if I did ride, I would never have dared ride through the main high street of Golders Green Road in North West London. If girls rode bikes, they took the back streets.

Running, as well, we were taught, was a way of attracting attention and a true Bas Yisroel (daughter of Israel) is dignified at all times. And yes we can talk about how times have changed and how you can now see women in athletic gear running up and down the main streets of North West London preparing for marathons but this has only become socially acceptable in the past few years.

Where to start on TV shows? Inappropriate and promoting a value system so different from the Jewish way of life. Yes I would watch shows but always with the struggle in the back of my mind that what I was doing was wrong and if I were a better Jew then I wouldn’t have the teivah (craving) to sit there and watch such nonsense.

I like Julia and respect her grit and determination

But I don’t think you need to go on national television to air grievances. I am disappointed that she hasn’t made peace with her upbringing given how intelligence and successful she has become. I am happy that she has pursued her dreams and has built up a more unique life suited to her. But did she have to shed religion to achieve her dreams? She felt that her life couldn’t continue as an Orthodox Jewish Woman.

When they say that a woman should cover herself or be less than so, that a man shouldn’t have to control himself, then you’re going to have an issue with me. When people tell me that women, their only purpose in life is to be mothers and have babies, then you’re going to have an issue with me.

Julia Haart, CEO of Elite World Group

My take on the show

For those that follow me on Instagram, I started discussing this programme long before it got picked up by the mass market who then all had the same take on slamming Julia for speaking out and claiming that everything she had said was nonsense.

My initial take on the show, which I still stand behind, is that you don’t need to leave religion to feel empowered. A relationship with G-d can amplify your dreams, it shouldn’t hinder.

This is Julia Haart’s truth. But this should not be the universal story across Orthodox Jewry. Watching a documentary about one person’s reality does not minimise their experience nor is it necessarily an accurate summary of a larger generalised groups of people.

Ironically, Julia Haart may have launched a revolution in the Orthodox Community

Judaism is so layered and beautiful and abundant, yet somewhere along the way, the Orthodox Community created a particular road to follow, a specific type of life to lead for the Jewish Woman. More and more women are breaking away from this stereotype by redefining what it is to be a Jewish Woman and live a G-d filled life with Torah Observance and Jewish commandments. In the past, breaking away from this stereotype may have been quieter, less public, more private.

Netflix produced ‘My Unorthodox Life’ and now the Orthodox Community across the world are fighting back to reclaim their pride with the hashtag #myorthodoxlife

And this is to be celebrated

With so many people and women speaking out about their achievements utilising the hastag of #myorthodoxlife, never before has it been so apparent to everyone how talent, incredible and empowered the Orthodox women feel about their lives.

Julia Hart has caused Orthodox Women to rise from the shadows. To go against the traditional view of modesty and speak up and speak out. To promote their achievements and show their faces. It’s been a long time coming but I think a change is coming.

And for that Julia Haart, I am grateful.

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