By now, if you are in any way connected to Jewish life, you have heard of the Netflix reality show, My Unorthodox Life. I’ve seen several polemic opinion pieces about it written by people who have not actually seen the show. Rabbi Yonason Goldson, for instance, even made the bold proclamation, “I have absolutely no intention of watching the new Netflix series My Unorthodox Life.” They have no first-hand familiarity of any of the cast members’ character traits, nor do they know the characters’ personal backgrounds.
I agree with much of the written criticism of the show, but it is dangerous when writers, and individuals in general, criticize things we haven’t seen for ourselves, and we Jews, who have to fend off baseless criticism from all directions lately, should know better.
As a military family, we have been posted all around the world, so my husband, our four sons, and I have established a strong connection with Chabad communities who have embraced us, and we straddle the worlds of very modern secular and very traditionally observant.
I first heard of the show from a Jewish Instagram account that I follow, and I immediately pulled it up on my laptop to see what the fuss was about. I generally don’t watch this genre of reality tv, so that, in and of itself, might have kept me from tuning in, but the stars of the show are Jewish, and I will watch, read, or listen to, anything Jewish, and curiosity got the best of me. I grew up in a Reform Jewish synagogue, but have become increasingly more observant in my adult life.
I watched less than a minute before judging it as a trainwreck, reality tv at its best, and worst. So bad, it’s good. So absurdly disturbing, but also intriguing and compelling in many ways. Julia Haart seems to have gone from frum to flaunting in an extremely obnoxious, over-the-top fashion.
However, if you watch the show you’ll see, while a lot of the time Haart is very critical of the community she left, she also celebrates her son who is still frum and figuring out how he wants to be and how he wants to live his life, and she remains friends with her ex-husband, who is still religiously observant. She provides kosher meals for her observant family members, and is deeply respectful to everyone in her life, whether they are modest, traditional, and deeply observant, or theatrical and modern.
When you look beyond the chutzpah and theatrics, Haart truly has a heart of gold. She loves her family deeply and extends herself to young people to help them reach their full potential personally and professionally. She’s doing really good work.
Of course the show is full of drama and criticism of Haart’s personal former community, but it also presents people (her daughter and son-in-law, and her sons) balancing an observant life with a modern life. She clearly suffered trauma in the ultra-orthodox world of her upbringing, but it’s important for people to know that her former community is only one group in a vast spectrum of the strict Hassidic and Orthodox Jewish life. She felt that world was restricting her, so she left it behind to create a new life for herself. Her accomplishments are colossal and her menschiness is busting at the seams of her couture accoutrements. I recommend that you watch the show with a careful, critical, inquisitive mind, and you will learn that there are many ways to be Jewish. I look forward to reading more about her story.
In this wild series of 9 episodes, look beyond the enormous ostentation and you’ll see that the message is clear and solidly Jewish: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
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