Orthodox Reconstructed

Jew-Ish Netflix Orthodox Judaism Ultra-Orthodox

Because every woman has her own journey.

As a woman who grew up in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish household; the Netflix reality series “My Unorthodox Life” deceptively presents the community in quite a damaging manner. I don’t have full visibility into anyone else’s life but my own; but it most certainly appears that many aspects portrayed in the show are simply untruthful.

            I made the decision to leave my Michigan community at 22 years old, making me an Ex-Orthodox Jew. From childhood, I’ve always been fascinated with music. Song and dance have always been at my core. In our community, women refrained from singing in places where men were present. Although this wasn’t something strictly prohibited—it was never done. Ever. Young career-minded women were encouraged to become teachers at several prestigious Jewish girl’s schools throughout Oak Park. With this career in Education, you were still expected to prioritize marriage and motherhood-- the halachic way. Although raised in a loving, and tight-knit environment, my imagination was always captured by the ways of the outside world. My attraction to something so foreign was almost magnetic. A world where women wore bright colors with exposed skin, socialized regularly with men, were glued to their phones seven days a week, and lived a drastically different life. One which I knew practically nothing about.

            At 19 years old, my sister chose to have her marriage matched. Her wedding was huge, and her husband is entirely devoted to his studies; but my sister absolutely adores that aspect. Marriage was never forced onto me. My mom knew and respected this. Can I say it made her happy? No; but she’s always been one of the more supportive mothers - without a doubt. Friends would always reach out to her for unfiltered advice on marriage, matches, children, and the woes of life. She taught us to be strong; to do what feels right. I’m sure being one of five helped as I cannot say my liberating spirit would’ve been the same had I been an only child.

            I later applied to a music conservatory, which was completely co-educational. Although aware that my life would change drastically, I was surprised at how isolating and tough this shift truly was. As much fun as I was having pursuing a career I’ve always dreamed of; making friends, financially supporting myself, and finding a mental state of peace felt impossible at the time. I had zero sense of community; something I’ve thrived off for so long. I had a very difficult time finding someone who left their Orthodox community, and certainly needed someone to relate to. There were many instances where my friends and family members back home showed their respect for my decision but desperately wanted me to return. Those who truly love you will do so unconditionally.

This was a far cry from the Netflix portrayal of those who leave their communities. I was never shunned for having left; but there was a clear understanding that the two lifestyles cannot fully intermingle. Yes, when I visit home, I must dress the part—but that’s simply because people need to be respectful of each other, regardless of one’s personal situation.  

I later came across a meetup of Jewish Female Artists, and this was precisely the discovery I needed. There, I met women who were Christian converts into Reform Judaism, those in interfaith relationships, ‘half’ Jewish women, and some who ate pork bacon with their morning eggs. Oy!, to say the least. Not only did I feel welcome, but I felt at peace. For the first time in a very long time, I no longer felt alone. Leaving my community didn’t make me any less Jewish.

During my studies, I collaborated with a guitarist on a few final pieces. He was brought up Catholic, to a single mom in Chile, and an only child. Yet somehow, things just clicked. I went on to graduate from music school, after a series of hiatuses due to my very late diagnosis of endometriosis. We are now married and celebrate Chanukah as well as Christmas. After a gruesome battle with fertility, we fortunately conceived twin sons through IVF and our family identifies with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement. Ima may not eat at my house, but she’ll forever be our most frequent visitor. Orthodox or not, your journey expresses who you are. All you’ve got to do is embrace it.

Yael, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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