I know the newly launched Netflix miniseries that is the talk of the town and making waves on social media is titled “My Unorthodox Life,” but quite frankly, I think “My Unorthodox Lie” would be a far more accurate description of the narrative that Julia Haart is trying to push in her vicious festival of mistruths.
Have no doubt about it—Orthodox Jewish women are outraged by Haart’s depiction of our lives, painting us as uneducated, submissive, repressed, subservient creatures who live to do nothing more than keep house, make potato kugel and pop out babies in order to please our overbearing husbands.
Haart has been vocal in her criticisms of the Orthodox Jewish community’s values, saying that women in her hometown were kept in the shadows and never spoke up in public.
That disdain extended to the laws of modesty in both speech and behavior, concepts that she felt left girls feeling marginalized, in addition to dismissing the secular education she received in the local Bais Yaakov as meager.
I take exception to Haart’s words for two reasons—in addition to being an Orthodox Jewish woman whose life in no way mirrors the suffocating existence she describes, painting a picture that Hollywood eats like candy, I happen to live in the very same community she categorizes as insular and fundamentalist—Monsey, New York.
Three of my daughters are graduates of Bais Yaakov of Monsey, the very school that Haart so glibly disparages, so while the world at large is thrilled to jump on yet another accusation of Orthodox schools providing a less than stellar secular curriculum, I know for a fact that she is dead wrong on this particular topic.
Each of my daughters spent four years immersed in a dual-curriculum program so rigorous that they were qualified to earn significant amounts of college credit while they were as young as 15, and where their secular and Judaic studies were on such a superior level that their college and graduate level coursework paled by comparison.
Equally laughable is Haart’s claim that she grew up in a world where clothing was intended to “cover and hide,” designed to make the wearer disappear into the background.
Clearly, she hasn’t shopped in Jewish stores anytime this century and seen how European and designer couture are all the rage, nor has Haart been to any local outlet centers where impeccably attired Orthodox and chasidic women tote purchases from Gucci, Zimmermann, Escada, Ted Baker and Tory Burch.
But as ludicrous as those claims are, neither can touch the sheer chutzpah of the show’s suggestion that Jewish women are deliberately caged after being trapped into loveless marriages that are devoid of all color.
Living as she is in a 10,000-square-foot Tribeca triplex, it is obvious that Haart is clueless about Orthodox Jewish women.
Perhaps one day I could introduce her to any of the 74 successful Orthodox female doctors, lawyers, neuro-psychologists, fashion photographers, interior designers, CEOs and other entrepreneurs who signed up as volunteer mentors for an Eastern Union initiative designed to guide post-seminary girls towards rewarding careers.
Truthfully, I would love to see Haart take a trip down memory lane by reading a letter written to her by Monsey realtor Michla Berlin, one year her junior, as previously reported on VIN News.
A fellow Bais Yaakov of Monsey graduate, Berlin shared her high school memories of Haart, recalling her comedic genius as she headlined local events and how her graceful dancing left audiences mesmerized each year at the annual Bais Yaakov concert, performances that drew hundreds of paying spectators.
The MyOrthodoxLife.net (https://bit.ly/3hJOkjS) blog launched on Thursday, sharing a growing stream of testaments from dozens of happy Orthodox Jewish women, and social media has been flooded with similar posts.
Shterny Steinmetz, a partner and vice president at Lucida Surface and director of a nonprofit, described her life as simultaneously hectic and fulfilling, writing on LinkedIn, “Being an Orthodox Jewish woman has never held me back from achieving anything I set my eyes on. I continue to set goals and I know that with my family, community and God on my side—nothing will stand in my way.”
Another post by Instagram user homegrownkosher read, “Dear world, don’t put me in a box and tell me how I’m supposed to feel. Don’t condescend to speak for all of us. We’re each unique individuals.”
Mishpacha columnist Alexandra Fleksher took to Twitter to encourage women to post their own stories of Orthodoxy in response to the miniseries.
“I want the world to know that there are Orthodox women who are leading happy, healthy and fulfilled Orthodox lives,” tweeted Fleksher. “Who straddle the fence of the modern world and ancient tradition, and are proud that our tradition interacts with the modern world and informs our values and our lives. I’m a spiritually striving, discerning Orthodox woman who loves the best that this physical world has to offer.”
Entrepreneur Aviva Bennett Tribuch called Netflix out on Instagram, accusing the streaming service of focusing on the wrong stories. She described her life as being filled with contentment and meaning, the tenets of Orthodoxy guiding her to living her best life.
“I’m sorry the world only gets to see and hear about the unfortunate stories,” wrote Bennett. “I guess that’s what sells in Hollywood. I am connected to thousands of other modern, educated, worldly, rockstar Orthodox Jewish women who feel just as passionate and inspired as I do about the lifestyles we choose to uphold. Who wants to bring THIS series to Netflix?
Reading these women’s stories and knowing the truth about the Orthodox community in the macro and the Monsey community in the micro, I have a hard time feeling empathy for someone who felt that her education was incomplete because it didn’t include studies of high fashion magazines or in-depth analyses of a long-running HBO series that was hardly rated PG, both of which were secret Haart indulgences. Clearly someone who unabashedly admits that “every low- cut top, every miniskirt is an emblem of freedom” is missing the boat on the inherent dignity and beauty that are the very foundations of Orthodox Judaism.
I cannot and will not be silent and let Haart’s ridiculous portrayal of Orthodox Judaism go unchallenged and I hope you can’t either.
Having been misrepresented and miscategorized one time too many, the world needs to find out who we are and what our lives are really all about.
Let’s counter Haart’s fairytale with the truth, by sharing what our lives as Orthodox Jewish women are all about on social media because our voices need to be heard, and if you are up for it, our faces need to be seen as well.
Sandy Eller is a writer with VIN News. She can be reached at [email protected]