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My Unorthodox Life

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What it’s about:

A reality series that centers around a woman from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish upbringing who reinvents herself in a big way, embracing empowerment and individualism. Most of her family comes along for the journey.

Names you might know:

Julia Haart, CEO of Elite World Group, a prominent modeling and talent agency based in New York City whose clients include Kendall Jenner, Adut Akech, Irina Shayk, Liu Wen and brands such as Chanel, Tiffany, Prada, Conde Nast, and Calvin Klein.

Why it’s worth your time:

Julia Haart is one of the biggest names in fashion and modeling. As the head of Elite World Group in New York City, she is a star maker. But as exciting as her life is today, it’s her past that provides the drama for this reality series.

Julia Haart in My Unorthodox Life
Image courtesy Netflix

Haart is from Monsey, NY, in Rockland County, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox community. Born Talia Hendler, she lived in the community into adulthood, along with her husband Josef and four children. But there came a point when she could no longer stay stifled by a religion where women are second-class citizens. While she followed all the aspects of Judaism, she says the Orthodox sect is more about fundamentalism. So, Haart got out of her theological shackles and forged a career in fashion. In short order, she had her own shoe brand, putting her in a position to eventually run Elite World Group.

My Unorthodox Life focuses on Haart’s new life with her new Italian husband. But it’s really the children who add layers of conflict and confusion to the show. Each of them is constantly weighing their religious future. Three of Haart’s four children have left their father in Monsey, while the youngest, Aron, is still living with him and trying to hold onto his strict upbringing.

Still from My Unorthodox Life
Image courtesy Netflix

Aside from 14-year-old Aron, the others went from Orthodox garb to Dolce and Gabbana. There is the oldest daughter, Batsheva, who is working social media for her mother at Elite using her “influencer” role on Instagram. She is in her mid-20s and married. In her previous life, Batsheva would be buttoned up figuratively and literally. But today she is proud to dress suggestively, while her husband, Ben, also from the Orthodox circles, appears slower to become progressive. Miriam, 20, is discovering her sexuality and an attraction to men and women. The sisters fit the reality TV template that the Kardashians made famous—both are attractive and into style, beauty, and social media. Then there’s Shlomo, also in his 20s. He’s out of the Orthodox community but maintaining the Friday night Sabbath as a way to slowly ease himself away from the fundamentalism.

Haart is also working on a memoir due out next year. The manuscript becomes fodder for one of the episodes as we see her offspring reading and reacting to an early draft that includes details of their own private lives.

The show’s B-plot involves Haart’s right-hand man, Robert Brotherton. The clash between his colorful flamboyance alongside Aron in his black hat and the exposed fringes of his religious undergarment is sort of a microcosm of what to expect in My Unorthodox Life. Despite the reality-show look and heavy editing, it’s a fly-on-the-wall experience to get a sense of what this family has dealt with and still faces.

The takeaway:

Through the lens of the #MeToo movement, My Unorthodox Life takes on added importance, even without any sexual indiscretions. Against big odds, Haart has become the ultimate power woman, balancing (not always perfectly) her work life with her family life, and even managing a friendly relationship with her ex. While the specifics may not appeal to every viewer, the show sets up intriguing dynamics with surprisingly relatable themes.

Watch it with:

Your friends who are into reality TV, fashion, and, of course, anyone who wants to learn about or has a fascination with religion. Each episode offers fresh topics for discussion.

Worth noting:

Pop singer Bebe Rexha makes a brief appearance in one episode. The series is primarily filmed in New York City at Haart’s Elite World HQ, her penthouse, and Batsheva and Ben’s Brooklyn apartment.

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