Netflix series disrupts debate over the lives of ultra-Orthodox women

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MONSEY, NY – Even on the most liberal flanks of the ultra-Orthodox community here, there are everyday moments where women live very differently from men.

In the synagogue, they must worship in separate balconies or enclosed sections. They are forbidden to become rabbis and are accused of wearing pants, or singing solo, or dancing in front of men, in order to distract men from Torah values.

But do they go to university, have careers, watch TV, enjoy their lives?

Yes, say the women of the Yeshivish community in this suburban suburb 30 miles north of Manhattan, some of whom are excited as they appear in the popular reality series Netflix. “My unorthodox life.”

The nine-episode show follows the world of Julia Haart, 50, who fled Monsey in 2012 and became a successful fashion and modeling executive. Haart paints a bleak picture of her old ultra-Orthodox life, portraying it as oppressive, suggesting that women are deprived of decent education and basically allowed only one purpose – to be a “babymaking machine”.

“The women in my community are second-class citizens,” she says in an episode. “We exist only in relation to a man.”

It is an image that is rejected by women like Vivian Schneck-Last, a technology consultant who holds an MBA from Columbia University and worked as Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. She feels that Hart is reducing the intellectual and professional steps that women have taken in the community.

“People in Monsey are upset because they have misrepresented what Orthodox people and especially Orthodox women are all about,” Schneck-Last said.

Roselyn Feinsod, an actuary and partner in Ernst & Young’s giant accounting firm, who was once heart-friendly, said she and her daughter graduated from the same girls’ high school as Heart, Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley, and that the most of his graduates now go to college. Despite stereotypes of ultra-Orthodox women as unscrupulous, Feinsod said she ran seven marathons and ran 100 miles around Lake Tahoe.

“Monsey is a beautiful community with educated people who respect each other,” she said.

Reactions to the show, both positive and negative, have spread across Monsey. The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel and, which covers an area that includes Monsey, have all featured articles about the debate. Critics in the Supporter of the show posted videos on YouTube.

Under the hashtag #myorthodoxlife, the women described their own successful careers and overall satisfaction with religious life.

“People were surprised, people were personally offended,” said Allison Josephs, the city’s founder of Judd Website, who said that people posted complaints on the site that they created to change negative perceptions of religious Jews. “Almost every Jew I met felt, ‘Can you believe what they did to us again?'”

Hard defends her representation as correct and says she has heard from many ultra-Orthodox and former ultra-Orthodox women who agree with her that the community oppresses women.

“Everything about your story resonates so deeply with me,” one woman wrote in a message on Haart’s Instagram page. “I, too, left the Orthodox community and had to start anew after struggling with unhappiness for so long.”

Several people familiar with the ultra-Orthodox community have written directly to The Times to express their support for the prospect of the heart, including Tzivya Green, a former member of the same Yeshivish community in Monsey.

“Women are still told to stay calm and, from a young age, learn that men hold all the power,” Green wrote. “We are taught never to go against the word of a man. Men are everything and women are nothing.”

Hard describes the criticism as a personal attack that distracts from the sense of female empowerment it hopes to foster. Since leaving Monsey, she has set up her own shoe business and is now chief executive of the Elite World Group, one of the largest modeling agencies in the world. Her show was only recorded for a second season.

Hardly agreed to address the debate over her show in a personal interview when it was filmed as part of her show. After the Times rejected this arrangement, they and The Times could not agree on an alternative.

Although she did not respond to written questions from The Times, saying that she had addressed them in previous interviews, she provided her perspective by pointing out comments she made on social media and also by posting a statement . It said in part, “My only purpose for sharing my personal story is to raise awareness about an absolutely repressive society where women are denied the same opportunities as men, so my next book will be in season 2 of my Show continue to document my documents. Personal experience that I hope other women can insist on the precious right to freedom. “

There is communal pressure in Monsey against watching television as a waste of time, as the broadcast represents. The role of women as mothers and housekeepers is appreciated. Even though some scholars plead, it should not be interpreted as an easy, a prayer in which men tell God that they have not made a wife is recited every morning.

However, some women interviewed at Monsey said that the perspective of the show is often dated, sometimes exaggerated, and mixes the different tribes of Orthodox Judaism practiced in Monsey.

The Weiler Monsey derives its name from the Munsee branch of the Lenape Indians, who inhabited the area before the arrival of Dutch and British colonists. Monsey has become a metonym for the Orthodox Jews of Rockland County, who represent more than a quarter of its population and gather at more than 200 synagogues and about half of so many Yeshivas. Their arrival transformed Monsey, a city with a single Yeshiva in 1950, into a place populated by many Orthodox Jews – some modern, some Hasidic, and some of the ultra-Orthodox variety, of which Hard was a part, known as Yeshivish. or Lithuanian (Lithuanian), and within these groupings, different gradations or sects of each.

The diversity, perhaps not as colorful as Joseph’s coat, can still be seen in the streets, where fat men in black silk coats and cylindrical fur hats, known as shtreimels, mingle with clean-shaven men in polo shirts and chinos, only noticeably recognizable of their skulls.

Haart has acknowledged in media appearances and other attitudes that there are “gradations of Judaism” and that others from their community do not share their perspective. At best, she admitted in a television interview with Tamron Hall, her religion fosters a recognition of charity, of kindness.

But critics say those nuances are not captured in the show, where they use terms such as “brainwashing” and “deprogramming” to describe ultra-Orthodox life in Monsey in ways that suggest it is more of a cult than a personal choice. They say they are concerned that the show describes strictures more typical of, say, Brooklyn-based Satmar Hasidim, not the less strict community of which she was a part.

For example, while the show accurately presents television as in Yeshivish circles, they say it is not clear that many people, including Hard, have one. (Haart admitted on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that she had a television in her later years in Monsey and said that she lied to school officials who would not otherwise have admitted their children.)

And yes, as Hart explains on the show, some in the community are not crazy about women riding bikes because the pedals can expose their knees. But critics said the show did not make it clear that women, including hair, were still riding bicycles, in modest clothing. (Haart posted about her family cycling trips on her Instagram account earlier this month.)

Even though Haart said she felt she was deprived of an education from a sub-par school system, some women said she was an ingenious, top-notch student who could go to college without problems or stigma, if she had decided.

“She was very popular, had every opportunity, a leader in the class, and now she’s turned it into a persecution situation,” said Andrea Jaffe, a certified public accountant and former American Express executive who said that for many Years lived. Road made of hearth.

Much of the Netflix show concerns Haart’s relationship with her four children, three of whom maintain different connections to Orthodoxy. (Hard divorced from her father, remarried since then. Both men appear on the show.) In Monsey, where religious traditions prescribe everyday patterns, her voluntary conversations run with the children about their own sexuality, and hers. to the norm.

Feinsod, a mother of four, said she was offended by what she characterized as hard efforts in front of a national audience to pull her children away from an observant life.

“It’s good for her to make choices, but for her to try to force children’s hand in front of an audience of millions of people is disappointing,” she said.

Of course, freeing their children from what they describe as the amplified imprint of ultra-Orthodoxy is exactly what Hard embraces as their mission.

“I lived in that world and it’s a very small and sad world, a place where women have a purpose in life and that is to have babies and get married,” she tells her 14-year-old son, Aron, in the sweat. Episode.

She says that for her, the low-cut tops she favors are not just gestures of style, but emblems of freedom, of a woman controlling her own body and how it is presented.

Netflix declined to comment on the reactions to its show, which is at least the third it has presented in recent years about Orthodox life. “Unorthodox,” a mini-series, focuses on the flight of another woman from her Brooklyn Hasidic community.

The Israeli family drama “Shtisel” has been applauded by many in the Orthodox world for its subtlety, rounded characters and humor.

Some women who lived in Monsey or spent a significant amount of time there said that this kind of nuance is missing in the heart show, which they said there is no point in some women not only avoiding misery but thriving, while maintaining ultra-orthodox values.

“There is no monolithic monsey,” Josephs said.

Additional reporting by Colin Moynihan.

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