I have seen and heard many terrible and tragic stories of people who have faced problems in the Jewish community. For many of these people, the problems, combined with the dismissal of those problems, led them to leave Torah Judaism behind completely. And no matter how much people say that they’re living their own best lives so don’t feel sorry for them, I can’t help but feel terrible about it. I’m a Torah-Observant Jew who believes deeply in Hashem and His Torah and His Mitzvot and I do find it sad that other people choose to leave those things behind. I’m even sadder when they leave due to Chillul Hashem perpetrated by people who wear the costumes and speak the language but who take Torah Judaism and twist it and corrupt it for their own ends.
As a proud Torah Jew, I want to be a part of the solution here. I want to be someone by whom others will judge Judaism for the better. And one way for me to do that is to do what I can to raise awareness of the problems and the abuses in our communities. The true stories of people who have faced these problems is what gives me and others the impetus to do exactly that.
Supposedly, the Netflix reality show My Unorthodox Life is one of those stories. But even as early as the release of its trailers, there was backlash. I myself was unimpressed. And now the show itself has generated a backlash of Jewish women who are standing up for their own choice to either become a Torah-Observant Jew or to continue being one while also living full and fulfilling lives within that realm.
Naturally, there’s been backlash against the backlash. A lot of people are protesting and saying that Julia Haart has every right to tell her story. They have no patience with anyone trying to silence those who come forward about problems within the Jewish community.
You know what? I agree 100%. And that’s why I have another problem with this show.
We wouldn’t have any problem with Julia Haart if she was telling her story. A written memoir or a documentary feature would tell her story in a way that garners both sympathy and respect and adds to the impetus to raise awareness. The problem is that she’s not actually telling her story. My Unorthodox Life is a reality show. Pretty much everyone who has access to any form of popular media knows that reality TV is anything but reality. Reality shows are heavily scripted and they’re cast and prepared with the intention of showing a lot of drama and excitement. As a heavily-scripted reality show, it’s hard to tell what’s true vs what’s exaggerated vs what’s twisted. I’m sure some of what Julia Haart presents is absolutely true but no reality show can depict the whole truth.
People have been complaining that My Unorthodox Life presents Torah Judaism in a bad way, dismisses the Torah-Observant women who love Torah and find fulfillment in Judaism, and puts a target on visibly Orthodox Jews for antisemitism. But there’s another problem with it precisely involving the issue of raising awareness of the problems in the Jewish community.
As someone who writes about problems in the Jewish community, this reality show is actually making things more difficult. Because it’s reality TV, it’s known to be scripted and not actual reality. As it is, the non-fiction stories of people who faced problems within the Jewish community are often dismissed by Jewish community leaders as lies. This show only gives those naysayers fuel for their fire. They can point to it and dismiss it as fictional with some justification. It’s been said that the best lies start with a kernel of truth. Well, thanks to the format of “reality show” with all its embellishments for drama and excitement, this show is giving the naysayers their kernel of truth. And now it’s actually going to be more difficult for others to tell their stories and raise awareness of the real problems and abuses in the Jewish community. Of course, the naysayers are going to come up with excuses and dismiss the stories as lies anyway but do we really need to hand them any excuses?
It’s the TRUE stories of people who faced the problems in the Jewish community that give so many of us the impetus to write and speak and raise awareness of these problems. These people do not deserve to have their credibility taken away. Their stories deserve to be told and to be taken seriously.
Yes, that includes Julia Haart’s story.