Well folks, just when you thought you had your fill of documentaries, scripted dramas and quasi-reality shows that are aimed at denigrating the lifestyle of Orthodox Jews, it appears that Netflix has once again has gone down that well trodden path to come up with a new one that they promise will be a ratings grabber.
In what can only be described as a DocuSoap because of its mix of reality and premeditated cliff hangers that are replete with palpably tense moments, “My Unorthodox Life” is centered around a 49 year old woman named Julia Haart ( married name: Hendler) who has left her former life as an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother of four living in Monsey, New York. As with other series of this genre, filmmakers focus on women specifically who have left the Orthodox fold due to unhappy marriages and the ostensibly stringent expectations that they believe are being foisted upon them.
Julia claims that she planned her “escape” from the alleged rigors of Orthodox life for eight years before she finally jumped ship. She did not tell family or friends of the trajectory that her life would take. Because she had no formal education and really lacked rudimentary knowledge of the world beyond Monsey, she saved whatever money she made from selling insurance policies and annuities while married so that she would have some financial wherewithal to begin her new life.
As a person with powerful proclivities towards high fashion, she developed a line of women’s shoes and after several years her mega high heel collection was selling in 17 countries. It was then that her company collaborated with the La Perla lingerie line and soon thereafter she was appointed as creative director of the company. Currently, she is the CEO of Elite World Group, an international network of modeling and talent agencies representing the likes of Kendall Jenner and Adut Akech. She has since created an in-house made-to-measure fashion brand, e1972.
Her meteoric rise to fame and tremendous material fortune is beyond amazing. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be married to the man who owned La Perla and is the chairman of Elite World Group. His name is Silvio Scaglia, a renowned Italian entrepreneur, who took on her last name in a gesture of solidarity with the new path that she was forging. Scaglia is the founder of Fastweb, an Italian telecommunications company and is also the founder of Freedom Holding (formerly Pacific Global Management Group) which is a holding company that controls the Elite World Group. In 2020, he founded SHS management, an AI powered asset management company. The couple share a colossal penthouse in an upscale building in the Tribeca section of Manhattan and it is not short on gratuitous amenities.
While there is no doubt that some women in the Orthodox Jewish world may not have the happiest of marriages, a great many do and they embrace their role as the mainstay of the home, educating their children and creating harmonious relationships predicated on devotion and loyalty to their husbands, their children, and their extended family.
While Julia certainly has the right to pursue her dreams, we also see her family and the conflicts that they are going through because of her. Daugher Batsheva, 27, a social media influencer and wife to husband Binyamin (Ben), has been married since she was 19. Mother Julia made her exit from the cloistered Monsey community that they had lived in soon after Batsheva and Ben had their last sheva brochos. This resulted in a rift in the mother-daughter relationship but apparently they have resolved the animus that her daughter felt. While speaking of the seemingly infinite amount of love she has for her children, Julia also believes that Orthodox Jewish women are nothing more than baby making machines and as such counsels her daughter and her husband not to have children until she reaches the age of 30 so that she can continue to enjoy her life and slake her hedonistic desires for material pleasures and career advancement.
Ben is a real estate agent who is struggling due to the depressing New York City coronavirus exodus but the two live in an upscale apartment in Brooklyn. Ben is seeking to break into his mother in law’s business and Julia is more than willing to give him advice on how to succeed.
I am an Orthodox woman.
A Chassidish woman.
A partner in a blended family.
A business owner.
A founder of Non for profit organization.
An active member in my community.
My community isn’t perfect. I’d still choose it every day! #myorthodoxlife #thisisfrum pic.twitter.com/YKUg7rDW0h
— Shterny Steinmetz (@ShternySteinme1) July 15, 2021
Son Shlomo, 24, is a sensitive guy who doesn’t want to completely give up keeping Shabbos but also wants to take part in his mother’s world, following her mantra of “just have fun, do what you want, be who you are and don’t follow anyone else’s rules, other than your own.” He is preparing for a career in law and is studying for his LSAT exam. Interestingly enough, he too lives in a magnificently expensive luxury high rise building on Manhattan’s upper west side. Gee, anyone wonder where he got the money for that?
Daughter Miriam is definitely a chip off the old block and reminds us of Julia in a multitude of ways. She is a senior at Stanford University but in the show we see her as the daughter who questioned everything about her Orthodox lifestyle since she was quite young and she now lives a totally unfettered life in which religious observance has been relegated to the trash heap. Like Julia, she has made it her mission to dress as provocatively as possible, to show off all those places on her body that she was forced to keep covered while living in at the family home in Monsey.
Started keeping shabbat at 14. Started eating strictly kosher and dressing modestly at 18. Feminist, cambridge uni grad, ed tech marketing writer. Love the meaning and beauty diving deeper into my religion gives me and love sharing it with others! #myorthodoxlife pic.twitter.com/UL7gIbdhm8
— dani (@daniellarivka) July 15, 2021
She too wants to make her way into her mother’s business as she develops an app for mobile devices and takes a leading role in trying to shape the future of the company. She has decided that she is bisexual and has a cornucopia of eclectic lovers of both sexes. Outspoken, forceful and totally self-focused on doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants, Miriam is the child that Julia selects to read the manuscript of her forthcoming memoir, “Brazen: My Unorthodox Journey from Long Sleeves to Lingerie.”
The Torah is a source of joy, certainty, faith, & wisdom – it inspires me to grow everyday and it connects me and every Jewish woman to thousands of generations of our people??❤#MyOrthodoxLife pic.twitter.com/jHjuKW1Yrp
— Chaya חיה ??? (@chayarivka) July 16, 2021
Youngest son Aron, 15, is the one that our hearts really go out to. Straddling the fence between leading the kind of “fundamentalist” life in Orthodoxy that his mother constantly rails about and leading a more “open life” as a very modern Orthodox Jew that his mother is incessantly pushing on him, his internal conflicts fly off the screen and evokes our compassion. He is currently still living with his father Yosef at their Monsey home in a shared custody situation. After arriving home from sleep away camp, Aron has decided that he no longer wishes to watch television and talk to girls. This revelation, of course, alarms his mother to no end and she is clearly fuming over it. She actually cries painful tears when hearing such news and pulls out all the stops to deter him in this allegedly “ill-fated” decision. While most Orthodox Jewish mothers would cry bitter tears if their sons were watching television and were socializing with girls, it is a more than a bit of culture shock to see this. In the case of this young man, one fervently wishes that an Orthodox Jewish organization whose goal it is to keep kids “on the derech” would launch a sensational intervention that helps this boy escape the nefarious clutches of his manipulative and megalomaniacal mother.
And then there is husband Silvio, who remains an ancillary character throughout the series. We see him from time to time, constantly supporting his wife’s endeavors and accommodating her needs. Of course, there are those moments when he expresses sheer frustration at the fact that he rarely has any alone time with his wife, but he soldiers on, despite their over the top hectic business schedules.
The last character that we are introduced to is Julia’s right-hand person in business, life and just about every other aspect of her existence. His name is Robert Brotherton, a exceptionally hard working and completely devoted assistant who hails from a small town in Texas and is in the throes of searching for his “birth person” as he was adopted. More than just a gay sidekick and a caricature of a witty and hysterically funny underling, Robert develops his role in Julia’s life with a formidable depth and aplomb.
Multigenerational pic of an orthodox family. Holocaust survivor w successfl busness, MD, therapist, nursing home owner, nursing home administrator &zumba instructr, doctoral studnt, &science major. We live by loving GD & appreciating the direction religion offers. #myorthodoxlife pic.twitter.com/OGfk4jyjwu
— Sorolle idels (@IdelsSorolle) July 16, 2021
The question arises as to why Julia has appointed herself executive director of the series. What is the purpose of putting her story out there at this juncture in time? Well, here goes. Firstly, she wants to promote her upcoming memoir and this is certainly a perfect platform in which to do it. Secondly, she has no shame in using every four letter word under he sun and is quite proud to have broken free from the “shackles” of Orthodoxy. Thusly, Julia wants to illustrate for us how showing off her cleavage at every turn and immersing herself in her decadently materialistic life has brought her the kind of euphoric happiness and joy that she longed for while being held captive in Monsey.
No one knows for what the #OrthodoxWoman prays when she shields her face and tears stream at her Shabbos candles.
— Goldie C. Klein (@goldiecklein) July 16, 2021
She also wants to show us how her new found wealth has demonstrably assisted her in luring her kids away from the lifestyle that they were raised in and regularly reminds them that despite the disagreements they may have had, all that she can now offer them in terms of wealth makes it all better and soothes the wounds from the past. After all, when one is waffling on committing themselves to a true Torah life, one can easily be bought off with luxurious apartments, chauffeured limos, mansions in the Hamptons, trips to gothic castles in France and all the designer clothes one can ever dream of. Putting it quite simply, the yetzer hara is in rare form.
And lastly and certainly most importantly, she wants to promote her line of garish shoes, her company Elite World Group which parades around scantily clad models and just about any other project that she has her hands in. Yes, Julia wants the world to know that money and lots of it is a fair exchange for an eternal life of dedication to Hashem, His Torah and taking joy in raising children who will follow in this time-honored tradition, creating their own heimishe families.
To show a different side of the story than the one @netflix is portraying, Alexandra Fleksher, co-host of the “Normal Frum Women” podcast and columnist for Mispacha Magazine, started a #MyOrthodoxLife hashtag on social media that’s blown up overnight. https://t.co/4R5DCmTrHr
— Jewish Journal (@JewishJournal) July 16, 2021>
In spite of her free thinking positions on issues and her magnanimity towards those closest to her in her life, she has an agenda and it is not pretty. Julia wants those around her to be ensconced in grand style so they too can morph into vapid hedonists who insouciantly defy the laws of modesty which Judaism is predicated on as well as those commandments that have made the world’s oldest religion special and unique since time immemorial.
For anyone who is also experiencing conflicts in terms of religiosity levels in the Orthodox world, this series will make one question the wisdom of Julia’s path and the dangerous folly that it portends for the future. To say that the series is utterly revolting would be a gross understatement, but the viewer will ultimately decide.