“Julia Haart” was born at 42 years old. After more than two decades as Talia Hendler, the pint-sized power has drifted away from her marriage and her strict Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York, and reinvented herself as a force to which you have to be reckoned with in the fashion world.
Now the Moscow-born style guru is telling his story in a new Netflix show, “My Unorthodox Life,” which premiered globally on July 14.
“When I first left, I didn’t really talk about my past,” Haart told The Times of Israel by telephone on the day of the show’s premiere. “I didn’t want people to know where I was from and my crazy story.”
But more than seven years after leaving behind her old existence, Haart has felt ready to open up her past to millions of viewers around the world.
“I realized that while my experience might not be typical, there are so many women in so many situations who have been told they are less than, or made to feel small. , or that it has been said that they don’t have the right or the capacity to go out and work or to be alone and independent, ”she said. “And I realized I have a responsibility here… it’s a story I have to tell.”
Against all odds, Haart launched his own line of shoes months after leaving the community. She eventually turned that into a job for lingerie brand La Perla, where she met her second husband, her then owner, Italian billionaire Silvio Scaglia. Today, Haart and Scaglia are co-owners of Elite World Group and she is CEO of the multinational model and talent agency.
Brash, blunt and with a new penchant for wearing revealing clothes and dizzying stilettos, Haart is a force both on and off screen. And as the show gains popularity and attention – along with a wave of criticism from some Orthodox Jews – Haart maintains that she still has a deep love and respect for Orthodox Judaism.
“I have religious children, I have kosher cuisine, I have a kosher pizza oven. She’s not a woman with anger in her heart, ”she said. “I want women to have it all, I want them to know how amazing they are and what they are capable of.”
In many ways, the real heart of the show lies with Julia’s four children, who each follow their own path as a result of their mother’s decisions and vary in their levels of adherence.
Batsheva, now 27, married her husband Binyamin at the age of 19, just weeks before her mother’s dramatic upheaval. The couple remain observant, but have drifted towards a more modern approach. Shlomo, now 25, still observes Shabbat but feels in conflict with some aspects of the religion. Miriam, 21, has followed her mother’s path to completely abandon religious observance and explore her sexuality and regained freedom. And Aron, just 15, who divides his time between Manhattan with his mother and Monsey with his father, is vowed to maintain his strict religious lifestyle – and resent the efforts of others to persuade him otherwise.
“As my children progressed, I became less and less religious,” Haart said. “So the Talia [who is mother to] Batsheva and Shlomo were not the same Talia as [the one who was mother to] Myriam and Aron.
Haart said it took her several years before she made the decision to completely withdraw from her marriage and religious practice.
“It’s not like one morning I woke up and I was wearing my sheitel [wig] and my stockings and I walked out the door, ”she said. “It was a very gradual process. I started to educate myself and discover the outside world… so their experience was a little different from mine, ”she said, as as she got older she slackened off.
Refreshingly, the series refuses to make Julia’s ex-husband Yosef Hendler the villain, and he even appears on camera multiple times.
“He’s a lovely, kind and good man,” said Haart. “The misery that I had in my marriage, I realize now … had nothing even to do with it.”
“My Unorthodox Life” is about as real and authentic as most reality shows of this genre, that is, not at all. Conversations are staged and scripted, scripts are made and “characters” are performed alongside family members. And yet, the show is, without a doubt, wildly entertaining.
“My Unorthodox Life” is about as real and authentic as most reality shows like this – that is, not at all
For the vast majority of the more than 200 million Netflix subscribers who are unfamiliar with the religious Jewish world, terms like “frum”, “tzitzis”, “tznius” and “rebbetzin” (“respectively religious”, “ritual fringes “,” Modesty “and” rabbi’s wife “) appears on the screen with glossary-type explanations.
But those more connected to the observer world will enjoy shopping Julia in the sprawling Evergreen Kosher supermarket in Monsey, dining at Mocha Bleu in Teaneck, New Jersey, or trying to explain the concept of “shells,” the tight underwear worn by many nuns to cover skin otherwise exposed by certain clothing.
While the whole family’s religious trips are a central part of the show, it’s also about their transition from a middle-class, middle-class existence to one dominated by helicopters, Hamptons, and house staff. The family’s Tribeca penthouse was one of the most expensive Sales in the neighborhood, and they rent a 12th-century chateau when they travel to France for a combination of Paris Fashion Week and the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
The different accounts of different members of the Hendler / Haart family send conflicting messages about their past levels of adherence. The self-proclaimed community of “heimishe yeshivishe” to which they belong in Monsey is generally not as isolated from the outside world as the Hasidic Satmar sect depicted in the Netflix drama “Unorthodox”. Haart worked as a teacher in a coeducational school and later as an insurance agent, and the family also lived in Atlanta for a period.
Haart, née Talia Leibov, is the eldest of eight siblings. Only one – Chana, who appears on the show – continues to speak to her after she leaves the community, and her parents have also cut off contact, Haart said.
“I just have hope,” she said. “I keep sending love, and someday I’ll get some back.”
I keep sending love, and someday I’ll get some back
And Haart says she has reason to be hopeful, as her ex-husband has moved on to a more moderate approach to religion, and her son, Aron, now attends Frisch School, a co-ed modern Orthodox Jewish school in New York. Jersey. which emphasizes a strong secular education alongside religious studies.
“His school is wonderful, I love it, I love the rabbis, they have been incredibly positive and supportive,” about the show, said Haart. “It’s modern orthodoxy.”
Unsurprisingly, the series’ review has abounded in some circles in particular Orthodox women who maintain that their religious observance has not stopped them from pursuing their dreams. Many said their own stories under the hashtag Instagram “My orthodox lifeIncluding Beatie Deutsch, a marathon runner and Orthodox mother of five.
“Like Julia, I come from a warm and loving Orthodox community. I am a proud mother of five children, but I have been able to pursue a career which is rewarding and meaningful to me ”, written Deutsch, who notes that Netflix turned down the opportunity to board a film about his life story. “Netflix will probably never share my story because I’m not controversial or outrageous enough. Because I’m happy and proud of the life I lead… But I will continue to show myself here and share my stories, my authentic voice in as a deeply proud and committed Orthodox Jewish woman, mother, athlete and representative of Israel.
Haart maintains that his problem is not with Judaism, but with the extremism and misogyny that tries to control women’s lives and their career paths.
“I think Shabbos is beautiful, and Yom Tov, if you want to stay kosher, why not? She said, using the Hebrew words for the Sabbath, holidays and strict dietary laws. “I have zero against Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. I think the Jews are amazing. I love being Jewish, I myself have been a victim of anti-Semitism on several occasions.
Restrictions on women “don’t just exist in Judaism, they exist in any basic culture… it’s not about Judaism,” she said. “My problem is with fundamentalism, period.”
Haart, who says she considers herself “a spiritual woman, I believe in God,” still has positive connections to her past life. When she was younger, her 5-year-old brother was killed in a car crash, and the response from the Jewish community has been overwhelming.
“The way the community came together, supported us and took care of us – there is so much benevolence and charity, gratitude, appreciation, I learned so many beautiful things”, a- she declared. “I love the beautiful concepts and precepts that I learned in my community: attention, kindness, taking care of each other.
And with the enormous reach of a platform like Netflix, Haart is humbled at the thought of being teleported to the homes of millions of people around the world. She says she has received hundreds of messages from people inspired by her trip.
“People have unorthodox aspects of their lives, people have suffered, people who have been marginalized or who have been told that they are inferior or that what they think they should be is bad,” she declared.
What she wants viewers, especially those less familiar with Jewish life, to take from the show is an understanding of the broad spectrum of Jewish identity.
“I hope what they get out of it is to see that there are all types of Jews,” she said. “You have people like me and Miriam who are extremely, you know, feminists, leading the way. Then you have Batsheva, who is a religious Jew, who is also leading her way. And you have Aron, who is an even more religious Jew.
At the end of the day, she says, “I hope what people will remember is that Jews are like everyone else. There are different types of Jews, we have different belief systems, and we are human, we bleed.
“There is no anger here. There is just a desire to give everything to women, ”said Haart.