Sue Fox stays up late binge-watching Netflix’s latest Jewish reality show.
It’s too hot to sleep. There are things I could do at 2.00 am like ironing, reading, listening to Proust on Audible, learning a new language or writing a chapter of the book I’ve been working on forever. Nothing appealed quite as much as the seven (or is it eight?) episodes of the Netflix reality show My Unorthodox Life which started when the sun came out. It’s a terrible series but addictive. Another ‘How I escaped from living a life of strict orthodoxy’ saga, but truly horrible, exploitative, product placing, mindless garbage with just one redeeming character. He is Robert Brotherton and he isn’t even Jewish.
Robert is the COO or PA of Julia Haart, formerly Handler, who is the CEO of Elite World Group. Julia is the star of a new Netflix reality TV series called My Unorthodox Life. Netflix asks viewers to ‘Follow Julia Haart, Elite World Group CEO and a former member of an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, and her adult kids…..’ Unsurprisingly, the series has generated a lot of publicity.
Julia is a force of nature who used to live in the Yeshiva Community in Monsey, New York. She was covered from head to toe and had 140 people for Sukkot (revealed in an episode where she combines Sukkot and Paris Fashion Week based in an actual castle outside Paris). Such is her wealth these days that fairytale castles are Julia’s reality. She is ‘helping’ her four children (three of them are still children in their twenties – barely a normal brain cell is visible anywhere) on their journey from religious observance to a very different life. Only teenage Aron, still living in Monsey with his likeable Abba, is still genuinely – joyously – happy in his orthodox skin.
Early on in the series, Julia describes orthodox Judaism – particularly for women – as fundamentalism. This is a word no one should use flippantly. The series is actually has nothing to do with Judaism. It is about conspicuous consumption on a truly epic scale. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that there is no happy-ever-after which is what Mother Superior Julia is trying to promote. Her life lessons are as worthless as the knacker Plotnik diamond ring she flashes on her perfectly manicured finger. A diamond, in fact, as big as the Ritz and we all know what Scott Fitzgerald did with that idea.
Stick thin with breasts she complains don’t perk up after having had four kids, Julia likes having them on show – possibly siliconed, fixed with double-sided sellotape – who knows? They are stars of the show which is like the Jewish Kardashians. I have never watched the Kardashians but the series is just about product placement and, possibly braindead, siblings with limitless funds.
Only poor teenage Aron who still lives in Monsey with his Abba and doesn’t want to talk to girls or watch TV has a proper heart. He loves his yeshiva life, but his ghastly, overbearing mother keeps exposing him to Manhattan life in the fast lane, girls and possibility.
Julia Haart is a monster. Her book is coming out soon. Somehow she built up a slush fund selling insurance whilst she was living a covered up sheitel wearing existence in Monsey. The home and husband she left aged around 42 look pretty substantial in terms of money. It’s a big modern house. Her cheery husband is full of paunch. He must be very modern orthodox because he has no trouble with Zoom calls and being interviewed for the show. Personally, I think what Aron has to go through on camera – his father is just as culpable – is bordering on child abuse.
As for the other kids. Miriam is Stanford educated (I think – not entirely clear) who is bisexual, and happy to be filmed with all of her partners snogging and going on internet dates. Batsheva, who is older, was married at 19 to clueless, pathetic, Ben who has also left the Yeshiva community in Monsey. Ben does nothing except adore his wife who is an influencer. He is not equipped to do anything except wait for his wife to allow them to make a baby when she is over 30. He’s good looking and that’s about it. As a couple, they hang about their Brooklyn apartment but are mostly in the city eating at instagrammable restaurants discussing how many followers Batsheva has. She is, to give her credit, beautiful.
Shlomo who is about 24 still wears a kippah and keeps Shabbos. He is a lost soul, a sweet guy who has never had a date and has no clue what to do with his life. No matter, his mother will sort it for him. All three children want to work for Elite.
Julia Haart nee Handler, it seems, is actually vaguely Russian. Her mother danced with the Bolshoi. They settled in Texas. How she got to Monsey is not clear to me, but I’m sure there is a back story to a woman who marries Silvio a multi-millionaire in Manhattan, having first produced a line of what in my teenage years would have been labelled ‘Footwear for Prostitutes’. Haart’s shoes are ridiculous. Julia wears them and has hundreds of pairs in her Tribeca penthouse wardrobe. It is so filled with clothes and accessories to Instagram, Tik Tok or whatever it is influencers do, there is a button to work the carousel. As it goes around Julia can choose outfits to wear. She is size zero. The clothes are ridiculous. They suit her.
In 2019, Julia married Silvio Scaglia Haart, a 62-year-old Italian entrepreneur with a net worth of one billion dollars, according to Forbes. They are life partners and business partners. Silvio also has something to do with Elite World Group. I’m not saying he has anything to do with her success, wealth, hype, but just thought I’d mention it.
You will have to watch it to see how ghastly and addictive it is. One of the most horrible things Cruella Julia does is tout the manuscript of her forthcoming memoir in an episode. She has an email from a religious 19-year-old from Monsey who wants to leave the Yeshiva community. Julia arranges for her to come to the City and meet in her office. She is a very heavy but fresh-faced – quite pretty – female in a long skirt. Instead of giving her advice in the form of job opportunities, education and contacts, Fairy Godmother Julia wheels in a team of hair and make-up artists and a rail of clothes. She is going to give Miss Frum from Monsey a new look. Obviously, this had all been pre-arranged. Nowhere within a hundred miles of Julia would size 20 jeans and top be lurking. Miss Monsey left looking weird, holding a little parting gift from The Queen of Elite World. It was pink, small and rubbery. It was a vibrator. I think I heard Miss Monsey tell Julia that, in her voyage out of orthodoxy which would scupper her eight siblings chances of good marriages, she revealed that she had experienced sex aged 16. She was probably expecting the heavens to open every moment since then. I feared for her tomorrows. She was chauffeur driven back to Monsey with an exhortation to ‘have fun‘. The poor girl was never seen again in the series and has not been heard of. Even my imagination can’t quite picture what happened to her when she arrived home in tight jeans with a pink vibrator. Maybe her mother was thrilled and borrowed it. I doubt it.
This is a dysfunctional family on high octane, with not one iota of any Jewish value which might suggest Tzedakah, giving charity or helping anyone apart from themselves. Why aren’t they helping out at food banks or giving clothes to Dress for Success.? Why aren’t they doing something about climate change instead of adding more and more useless merchandise to their already useless closets? Why does anyone imagine any of this has a nano grain of truth about someone who once lived an ultra-orthodox life?
As I wrote at the beginning, the only real person in all this is Robert, a 30 something overweight gay man who was adopted. He has grown up in a wonderfully loving family we meet. They are normal, warm-hearted, caring, average people. Robert has no idea about his birth ‘person’. He longs to know his medical history – why he finds it hard to lose weight – and where his musical talent comes from. He’s a total sweetheart and seems to have been dumped into the Haart Elite World to make fun of his clothes with his natural camp. Why he agreed to have the most important moment of his life – when he meets his birth mother – filmed for all the world to see – is a total mystery. It’s a very touching moment. It answers all his questions. He is as like his birth mother as two peas in a pod. She is happy he has had such a good life. But who knows what the repercussions will be? Lovely Robert, meeting his birth mother, just had to be wearing an Instagrammable Balenciaga blanket. Of course, he did. Sickening.
I wish the Haart empire and family only naches and simchas but there is something so tasteless and exploitative about their reality show. Definitely not good for the Jews – not good for anybody. But if you can’t sleep…
All photos: Courtesy of Netflix