Miriam Haart (left) speaking with Manny Yekutiel at Manny's in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2023. (Photo/Lillian Ilsley-Greene)
Miriam Haart (left) speaking with Manny Yekutiel at Manny's in San Francisco on Jan. 18, 2023. (Photo/Lillian Ilsley-Greene)

Miriam Haart in San Francisco: ‘My religion is trying to get women to believe in themselves’

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Miriam Haart took her first step outside of her Orthodox community during a birthday trip to Paris a few years ago. It was a Friday night, and she broke the laws of Shabbat.

“I turned on, I think it was a shower,” Haart said. “And nothing happened.”

One of the stars of the hit Netflix reality series “My Unorthodox Life,” Haart recounted this story during a conversation about the tensions between Orthodox Judaism and modern life with Manny Yekutiel at his San Francisco cafe on Jan. 18.

“My Unorthodox Life” follows the Haart family nearly 10 years after matriarch Julia left the haredi community in Monsey, New York, taking three of her four children with her. In the show’s second season, which began streaming last month, mom Julia struggles to keep her role in her talent management company, Elite World Group, following a nasty divorce from her second husband, with whom she co-owned the company; oldest daughter Batsheva goes through her own divorce; Miriam considers marrying her girlfriend, Nathalie, to keep her in the country; oldest son Shlomo loses his virginity; and youngest son Aron delves further into religion.

Today Miriam Haart, 22, lives in the Bay Area. She graduated from Stanford last year with a degree in computer science and works as an app engineer and NFT developer. While studying at Stanford, she co-taught an undergraduate course on virtual reality in 2018 and 2019. On the show, she says she hopes to one day run the tech side of Elite World Group.

Julia Haart (center) with daughters Batsheva (left) and Miriam (right). (Photo/Courtesy of Netflix)
Julia Haart (center) with daughters Batsheva (left) and Miriam (right). (Photo/Courtesy of Netflix)

She also hosts her own podcast, “Faking It,” where she focuses on issues affecting women, from sex to friendship to entrepreneurship. The most recent episode is titled “How to Get a Six Figure Job and Hit on Girls.”

In the back room at Manny’s, which has the feel of a well-curated living room, some 30 community members sat close as Yekutiel and Haart sipped on wine and bonded over their shared experiences as gay Jews who were raised Orthodox.

As a child, Haart said she was often frustrated with the rules imposed on haredi women, such as that they cannot wear pants or sing in public. “When I was 10 years old, I wished I was a boy because in the community as a boy, I could have worn basketball shorts,” she said.

After breaking Shabbat that first time in Paris, Haart said she went on a journey of self-discovery. The same year, she flew to San Francisco to attend the Make School Summer Academy, a program that taught high schoolers how to design smartphone apps, games and VR experiences. She remembered being careful not to use her debit card on Saturdays so her family wouldn’t see she was breaking Shabbat.

Telling her father, Yosef Hendler, that she was no longer religious was her first time “coming out” to him, she said. The second was telling him that she is a lesbian. “He said, Miriam, I am going to accept you like my parents accepted me for becoming religious,” Haart said. (Hendler is a ba’al teshuvah, a Jew who was not raised Orthodox but became more observant.)

What feels good right now is just being a voice and saying, I love Judaism, I’m a Jew.

The Haart family has faced some backlash for presenting the Orthodox community in a critical light on the show. Since Haart’s younger brother and father still belong to the haredi community in Monsey, Haart said her family did not take the decision to turn their lives into a reality show lightly.

“How we decided we wanted to represent our community was that we wanted to stand up for what’s right,” Haart said. “We care about the people in this community, we care about the women in this community, and therefore we think it’s important to talk about these issues.”

Haart still has a lot of love for Judaism, she said, though she is not currently practicing. She is still working out what she wants from her relationship to the faith.

“What feels good right now is just being a voice and saying, I love Judaism, I’m a Jew,” Haart said. “That’s how I contribute to the community.”

After leaving Monsey, Haart often thought of herself as a person without religion, she said. She has recently come to a new conclusion: “My religion is trying to get women to believe in themselves.”

Seasons 1 and 2 of “My Unorthodox Life” are streaming on Netflix.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.