Eight years ago, Julia Haart left an ultra Orthodox Jewish community to eventually become the CEO of Elite World Group, which she now co-owns with her husband. Haart’s journey can’t be overstated: She did a total 180 on her life, escaping a community where women weren’t allowed to wear pants or drive, to living in a Tribeca penthouse and managing a major talent media company. Now, the Haart family are at the center of My Unorthodox Life, Netflix’s new, 10-episode reality show, with much of the plot revolving around Haart’s daughters, Miriam, 21 and Batsheva, 28. The series contends with the emotional fallout of Haart’s decision to leave, which she did the day after her daughter Batsheva’s wedding, taking Miriam with her, while the rest of the children left later.
It’s too easy to compare the show to Keeping Up with the Kardashians: There are four kids, ages 15-28, all involved in various parts of the Elite empire. Miriam is interning and redesigning the company’s app, while Batsheva was hired to train models how to use social media — but only after she reached 1 million TikTok followers. Shlomo, 25, is going to law school to hopefully one day work for the company. The youngest son, Aron, 15, still lives part-time in Monsey with Haart’s ex-husband. Watching the show sometimes leaves you with more questions than you came in with: How exactly did she so dramatically change her life in eight years? How do they have this much money? Why are all their wine glasses so large?
But there’s something charmingly earnest about the show, something — dare we say genuine — that brings to mind Season 1 of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, where nobody is that famous yet, and where everyone’s a little excited to have cameras follow them as they pack for fashion week or record little spats. The show has some wholesome plot points: Miriam kisses the girl she’s dating at her mom’s work event; Batsheva and her husband Binyamin have a fight about how she has to document every part of their lives for social media. But it’s also wildly specific: Binyamin and Batsheva also have a fight about how she’s starting to wear pants for the first time, and he’s uncomfortable with it. It’s salacious and specific, but also so ordinary — the best kind of reality TV show.
In some ways, Batsheva and Miriam are the perfect reality TV stars: beautiful, rich, stylish, unafraid to be vulnerable onscreen. But in other ways they’re dark horses; Batsheva didn’t start watching reality TV until she was 21 years old, and then, it was only The Bachelor. She didn’t enter the world of Bravo until the show was in the works two years ago. They’re unlikely stars with all the pieces to make them perfect for it, which ultimately makes them more trustworthy, a quality that’s hard to pin down in reality TV.
Below, NYLON spoke on the phone with Batsheva and Miriam, who both called from New York City.
Season 1 of My Unorthodox Life is available on Netflix.
Were you nervous at all to see how this would land? How has the reception been compared to how you thought it would be ?
Batsheva: I love watching reality TV and I know everyone makes assumptions, so it's kind of nerve wracking to put yourself out there in that way. But thankfully the feedback we’ve received has been so positive, and when we meet people in the streets, they've always had such beautiful, positive things to say, so it's been really nice. It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be.
Miriam: Yeah, definitely. And I mean, we never did this before. This is our first time ever being filmed every day and putting our lives out there in the way that we have, and so when people would ask us, “Are you nervous for the show to come out?” It was more like, we have no idea what it will be like when it does. It’s kind of this empty space with a new future. We had no idea what to expect, so when we got so much positive feedback it was like, “Oh, this is great,” because we really didn't know what would happen.
Batsheva, you didn't start watching reality TV until you were 21. How do you think that finding reality TV later in your life has impacted how you approached being on the show?
Batsheva: It's actually interesting because I watched The Bachelor franchise at 21, but I didn't start watching actual reality TV, like Bravo, until I knew that we were going to possibly do the show two years ago. I was like ‘Okay, I need to understand how this all works,’ And now I love reality TV. It’s so much fun. But I think it was hard to watch reality TV and try to understand what it would be like for us, just because I feel like we don't have the regular drama fighting that a lot of the shows that I watch are all about. We wanted to give a different perspective and show that you can still have a really entertaining show even if people aren’t always fighting. It's a different way of looking at it. Does that make sense? But I definitely am happy to be able to watch it, just because I felt like when we were filming and rewatching the episodes, I was like, obviously I'm biased, but this is actually good TV. As someone who loves reality TV, I could see people enjoying this.
Miriam: I am not a big TV person, so I didn't watch that much reality TV, but now that I’ve been in a reality TV show, I love reality TV. I watch The Bachelor and Too Hot To Handle, because I know what it's like to be on a reality TV show.
Were you surprised with how some of the drama in your lives ended up being portrayed on the show? Or did it feel pretty accurate as to how you had experienced it?
Batsheva: I think it was really accurate. I think what made the show feel authentic was that we did things that were very true to us, like the conversation with Ben and I fighting about pants, that's totally a conversation that we had like a million times before. And at the point when we were filming that, I had just started wearing pants. It was a very personal experience that we're sharing. When Ben and I are fighting about social media — these are all things that actually do happen. I think because they're very authentic to our lives, they came off that way, and I think that's what made the show have that feeling because we're sharing things that we actually experience.
Miriam: I think that even the parts where we're portrayed in a slightly more negative light, it just shows how people are people and that we make mistakes. As we have seen [in the show], me and Batsheva have a lunch and we make up after something. It just shows the journey of humans, of people, and so even parts that don't necessarily look the best are okay.
Miriam, your bisexuality and journey with that is a big storyline on the show. Why was that important for you to show, and what’s the feedback been like?
Miriam: It's mostly because it's something I was going through at that time. I felt like it was important to represent people who are bisexual, since I am bisexual. It’s interesting because it isn't one of my core identities. Some of my core identities are being an engineer, being athletic, being a positive person, and being creative, and I also happen to be attracted to women, so I thought it would be cool to represent bisexuality, not as my core identity, but as something that’s a part of me that I was born with. On the show, I share my journey of really accepting that and being okay with it, and that's why I was really happy to actually represent that and show people that you can be bisexual and it doesn't have to be everything that you are.
Because being bisexual has never really been something that I've thought about a lot and that was my main identity, I never really realized the impact I can make for people who are queer. And now I'm getting all these DMs from queer Jewish people, bisexual people, gay men, sometimes asking me advice on how to come out or saying that I am making them feel heard and represented and accepted. I feel so incredibly humbled and grateful that I get to do that, and help so many people.
You have garnered comparisons to the Kardashians, which is an easy leap to make. You are a family who is all part of a kind of empire, with a strong matriarch at the center. What do you think about those comparisons?
Batsheva: I think that people compare us because the Kardashians made family reality TV a thing, and because they’re obviously the biggest name out there. So when you see my family, and we're very blessed to have a nice lifestyle, that is automatically the comparison. We're obviously very thankful to the Kardashians for making family reality TV something that people are interested in and watch and are intrigued by. My favorite is, “The Kosher Kardashians.” That's my favorite name.
Miriam: That's awesome. I think it's a huge compliment. I think they’re this incredible family that has built a huge business, and they're extremely successful. So being compared to them is really incredible.
One thing I find really interesting about this show is that you all left the community not that long ago in the grand scheme of life, and it seems like a lot of the emotions around leaving still feel very fresh. Has filming the show brought up some of those emotions?
Miriam: I remember the scene, I think it was episode two, where I went to Monsey with my mom and Robert [Brotherton]. I hadn’t visited Monsey in a while and that 100% brought up hard memories for me. Just because seeing all the places where I was just sad a lot from not being able to be myself, dress how I want to dress, or memories of wearing clothing that made me sweat so much in the summer. I couldn't do cartwheels because then people would see my underwear, because it was all skirts. The first few episodes were kind of heavy. We're talking about everything we've been through, and it was hard emotionally. I think that because we are in it together as a family, it was way more digestible, it was something that I could do again because I was with my family, and I felt comfortable with them and supported by them.
Batsheva: For me, probably the hardest was having those conversations with my mom again. That was something that I felt like we had passed on, but we wanted to share that we actually had had conversations about that times in our lives. It was definitely uncomfortable, but we were all doing it together. We are all experiencing those things, so it made it manageable to get back in there and we understood that we needed to share these emotions in order for you to get the full picture of what we went through.
Have you heard from people in Monsey about the show? What has the reaction been like?
Batsheva: We haven't had any personal contact with anyone whose had a different opinion.
Miriam: I have a friend who, to this day, I'm best friends with, still living in the community. Her and everybody she knows has watched the show and said everyone just thinks it's cool that somebody from Monsey is now on a TV show. They created a group chat called “We Love Fundamentalism” as a joke, because they do love their religion, and we always say fundamentalism is bad in the show. So now she's in this group chat, which I think is very funny.
Do you feel like seeing a story like yours opens up a way for people who might not want to be in fundamentalist communities anymore?
Batsheva: Yeah, definitely. I think that my mom's reason for sharing her journey is because she wants to show people that are unhappy or are struggling in any religion, or any society where they feel that there's extreme rules, that you can still live a very fulfilling and accomplished life without sticking to all those rules. And I think that that's what makes the show so appealing, because it's not just about extreme Judaism, it's about any religion or any society where women feel less than or are just meant to have children. So that's what really makes it so relatable.
Miriam: Yeah, I would say those are the DMs that I really respond to in-depth, because I get messages from people in the community saying, “I went to the same school you go to, I feel the same way you feel, I don't know what to do.” And those are the people that I'm like, okay, finish school, take the SATs, try to get into a good college, and get an education because the best way to get out of the community is being able to be financially independent, have a good education, and live the life you want to live. So that's really amazing that we get to really reach those people.
It feels like you two are kind of the central characters, at least of the kids. I gravitated to your stories the most. What do you think it is about your stories that speak so much to people?
Batsheva: I think my mom really wanted to share women empowerment. Even though we came from a place where we didn't have education or things like that, we both had a lot of accomplishments, or are doing our own thing in very different fields and she wanted to share that.
Miriam: I think it has a lot to do with what my sister is saying about. My mom's goal, she says this so many times, is she's trying to build an army of financially independent women. And she did that with me and Batsheva, she really brought us out of the community, and allowed us to pursue education, make money on our own, and so I think that is probably a reason why we're showcased a lot on the show. It's kind of proof of concept that any person can really step out of where they're brought up and become something that they want to become. And that’s showcased with Batsheva doing fashion and TikTok and me with technology, when we were supposed to have babies already.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.