My Unorthodox Life: Dangerously Stereotypical or Unflatteringly Authentic?
19th August 2021

Netflix’s reality series, My Unorthodox Life, follows Julia Haart and her family as she processes her new life.

She is a successful chief executive of a leading fashion talent agency with surprising origins.

Julia spent the vast majority of her life in a strict, Orthodox Jewish community before she left to find success.

It is rare for a reality series’ premise to be this divisive, with some praising the show … and other condemning it as an anti-orthodox smear campaign.

My Unorthodox Life has one season, nine episodes, and premiered on July 15, 2021.

Julia Haart and her adult children live their lives, but they also spend plenty of time reflecting upon their histories.

Julia is no longer religious. Her eldest daughter, who was married at 19 just days before Julia left the community, is still devout.

Before leaving the Yeshivishe Heimishe community, Julia felt locked in a battle of wills for years.

Not permitted to get any real education or job training, she sold insurance in secret to save up money to divorce her husband and leave.

She put it off for years, afraid of losing her children in the split, but Julia knew that she wanted a different life.

Eight years later, Julia is married to an Italian entrepreneur.

Her 20-year-old daughter, Miriam, shares her mother’s views and is not religious.

She is a university student and is proud of her bisexual identity, very conscious that she would still be closeted if she had remained where she was born.

On the show, Julia repeatedly discusses how her gender was presented to her growing up in this community.

From education to how she was supposed to dress to her role in marriage to being forbidden to sing or ride bicycles, being a woman meant being treated worse.

She characterized this as akin to living in the 1800s.

The series features disagreements within Julia’s family over how to process their new life in contrast to the old.

For example, the pilot shows Julia’s eldest daughter speak of taking baby steps in independence, not wanting to give her husband culture shock.

Julia found that baffling. Meanwhile, her younger daughter told her sister that getting married as a teen had clearly held her back.

So why is this controversial? The show has received a lot of praise from critics.

However, some strongly worded criticisms have described the series as “vapid” and even as dangerous.

This is a complicated topic, with passionate voices on both sides.

Allison Josephs is the creator of Jew In The City and recently spoke to TMZ about her concerns.

“I think that everybody should be allowed to tell their story, but their story should be based on truth,” she stated.

“And the reality is that Julia Haart is not telling her story,” Allison accused. “She’s talking about a much more Hasidic life that she never actually lived.”

“The fact that she called an entire community ‘fundamentalists’ when people from this community are being attacked on the street really endangers Jews,” Allison insisted.

There are incidents of Hasidic Jews being attacked in public in various violent hate crimes.

“And,” she continued, “we really hope that Netflix and all of Hollywood will do better.”

“People are devastated because there are issues in the community and we can’t pretend that there’s not,” Allison acknowledged.

“That’s something that we have to admit to to fix but to make it seem like these negative stories over and over and over again is all that exists,” she lamented.

Allison expressed that, in her view, “we never get any positive stories.”

“I believe she is a hurting person and I have compassion for her pain,” Allison said of Julia’s struggle.

“But I don’t believe that the orthodox community is to blame for what she’s hurting for,” she added.

Clearly, Julia sees this matter very differently.

On the one hand, it is absolutely true that antisemitism is a horror that is on the rise.

Many major conspiracy theories, particularly those that are especially outlandish, have strongly antisemitic roots.

QAnon is an excellent example — a brainrotten subset of dangerous extremists who essentially believe that a “cabal” performs blood libel, with a few modern twists.

There is more to antisemitism than dogwhistles and conspiracy theories.

Jews are a marginalized religious and ethnic minority who are all too often easy targets for hateful bigots.

Some of those bigots are violent, and will hold up any “bad example” in order to further condemn an entire, diverse community.

But … is Julia somehow lending aid and comfort to antisemitic bigots when she shares her lived experiences?

She’s not a woman who dated a Jewish guy for a few weeks and then made a show about how it’s not for her.

Julia is telling the story of her real life, which she lived for 42 years before leaving it all behind. 

She’s also Jewish.

Unlike her eldest, she is no longer religious, but that does not change her ethnicity or her background.

Telling one’s own lived experiences can be misused for bigoted ends … but it’s difficult to argue that this Jewish family is promoting anti-Jewish sentiments.

Julia was not raised in a lone cabin in the woods by some crazed cultist. She was raised in an established, deeply orthodox community.

Telling her story may be painful — for her, a woman who contemplated suicide before she ultimately left, and also for others watching it — but it’s her story to tell.

At the end of the day, we all have the right to share our life stories. But religious minorities also have every right to discuss how their communities are portrayed.

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