‘It was stay and die, or walk out the door’: Jewish mother-of-four who quit ‘ultra-Orthodox’ life at age 43 to become a high-flying fashion CEO in New York reveals how she fled strict religious past that left her suicidal

  • Julia Haart, 50, is the CEO of Elite World Group and previously served as creative director for La Perla
  • She was raised in the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Monsey, New York, where she says ‘women were to be rarely seen and never heard’
  • Discouraged from dressing immodestly or stepping outside traditional gender roles, she was also all but banned from learning about the outside world
  • Julia was married at 19 and had four children but grew increasingly depressed and suicidal, trying to starve herself to death
  • She left at age 43, starting her own shoe brand the next year and quickly landing a job at La Perla
  • In 2019, she married the company’s owner, Silvio Scaglia, and was named CEO of Elite World Group
  • She now hobnobs with stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kendall Jenner and her life is the subject of a new Netflix docu-series, ‘My Unorthodox Life’

A fashion designer and entrepreneur who rubs elbows with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kendall Jenner is opening up about her decision to walk away from her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where ‘women were to be rarely seen and never heard’ after 42 years. 

Julia Haart, 50, is the CEO of Elite World Group, designs the label e1972, and previously served as creative director for the luxury brand La Perla. But until 2013, when she left behind her ultra-religious upbringing and her husband of 23 years, none of that even seemed within the realm of possibility.

In Netflix’s ‘My Unorthodox Life,’ which premiered on Wednesday, Julia opens up about her childhood in the Haredi Jewish Orthodox community in Monsey, New York, getting married at 19, and ultimately leaving that life behind — and how she’s adjusted and excelled in the secular fashion world.

‘It’s really hard to imagine that just a few years ago, I was living in an extreme ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and then I just packed up and left,’ she says in the series.

A leap: Julia Haart, 50, is the CEO of Elite World Group. She was raised in the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Monsey, New York, where she says ‘women were to be rarely seen and never heard’

Making changes: The fashion designer and entrepreneur who rubs elbows with celebrities, but until 2013, when she left behind her ultra-religious upbringing and her husband of 23 years, none of that even seemed within the realm of possibility

Streaming: Her life is the subject of a new Netflix docu-series, ‘My Unorthodox Life’

Julia was born Julia Leibov in Moscow, Russia, emigrating to the US with her parents at the age of three. 

When she was 11, they settled in Monsey, a suburb 35 miles north of New York City with the largest population of Hasidic Jews in the US outside of New York City, with nearly half of households speaking Yiddish or Hebrew.

‘We lived in the 1800s,’ she told the Los Angeles Times of her Yeshivish upbringing, explaining that modesty for women was paramount and access to outside information via television, radio, or even newspapers was was hard to come by.

She also described a sexist worldview wherein men studied the Torah but women did not ‘because my mind wasn’t capable of grasping it, you see. I was told, “Women’s minds are light” — “nashim da’atan kalos,” she said.

‘Where I lived, women were to be rarely seen and never heard. Our lives were governed by a web of modesty laws that required us to not only cover our bodies head-to-toe, but to behave comparatively, as well,’ she told the New York Post. ‘You grow up thinking you don’t matter at all.’ 

But Julia’s interests always pushed beyond the limits of what was deemed acceptable. She read a lot, from classic literature to fashion magazines she had to sneak from a 7-Eleven.

At 16, she taught herself to sew, and would make her own modest versions of the clothes she saw in those magazines.

But she was busy in her traditional role, too. Because she was the oldest of her parents’ eight kids, and female, she often cared for her younger siblings like a mother would, changing diapers and wiping their noses.

‘By the time I was married, I already had seven children,’ she said. 

To attract a husband, Julia changed her first tame to Talia — a more Hebrew-sounding name — when she was 18, and by 19 she was married off to Yosef Hendler, a man she barely knew.

A housewife, she had four children with Yosef: Batsheva, Miriam, Shlomo, and Aron, and they were raised with the same strict upbringing.

‘Batsheva was brought up the most fundamentalist because she was my eldest,’ she told Oprah Daily. 

‘Once, one of her babysitters had put on a radio with the news. Not only did I fire the nanny, I cried for two days, because I was sure I had ruined my daughter’s soul, 100 per cent convinced that God was going to punish me, and that me and my daughter were going to hell for eternity because there was a radio on in my house. That’s how crazy I was.’

The ultra-Orthodox are encouraged to have lots of children, but Julia stopped at four, and secretly started taking birth control.


On the rise: After leaving in late 2013, she launched her own shoe line and eventually became creative director at La Perla, where she dressed stars like Kendall Jenner

Ooh-la-la! She dressed both Kendall and Mary J. Blige for the 2017 Met Gala

Star power: She launched her own line, e1972, in 2020 with Bebe Reha singing at her runway show

She did other things that would get her in trouble, too. She was told the colors she wore were too bright, that she shouldn’t be reading the books that she did, and once, at a wedding, was scolded by a rabbi for dancing too provocatively — even as all the men were separated from the women at the reception. 

Julia was miserable, growing more and more depressed. She wrote in her diary about methods for killing herself.

‘The day came when I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stay for one more second,’ she told the Post. ‘You’re trapped in a life that’s not yours. So it was stay and die, or walk out the door.’

She ultimately deciding that starving herself was the best way to go because people would assume it was unintentional, an eating disorder — so her children wouldn’t carry the shame of their mother’s suicide. At just over five feet tall, she got down to 73 lbs.

But seeing her daughter Miriam facing the same struggles to conform as she did made up her mind to leave instead.  

‘All the things I’d been thinking in my head, she was saying them out loud, except I thought I was a bad person for thinking this way. But no one could convince me that a 5-year-old was evil,’ she told the LA Times. ‘Miriam gave me the permission to say, “Something’s not right.”

Motivation: She ultimately found the strength to leave when she saw her youngest daughter facing the same struggles to conform as she did

Family affair: Her oldest daughter, Batsheva, is now 28. Like her mom, she was married at 19

Open-minded: Her daughter Miriam is now an app designer who discusses her bisexual orientation in the series, with her mom’s full support

Both worlds: Youngest son Aaron, 14, still attends high school and wears a yarmulke while dividing time between his parents’ homes

‘They were doing to her what they had done to me — trying to push her down and mold her into that flat person that they could disappear. I couldn’t let that happen,’ she told the New York Times. 

It took her years to actually get out on her own. She had to learn about the world outside of her community, and also worked secretly, selling insurance to save up enough money to break free.

In late 2012 she finally left, quickly reinventing herself as Julia Haart as she adjusted to her new life.

‘I’d had no radio, no television, no newspapers, no magazines. I’d never been to a bar. I’d never been on a date. I’d never slept in a room on my own. I felt like I was a Martian stepping on earth,’ she said.

But she enjoyed living her life more freely, and didn’t waste time making up for all the lost years in the romance and sex department.

‘The first orgasm I had was at age 35 — with a vibrator, after 16 years of marriage’ she said. ‘I never heard of an orgasm, let alone a vibrator.’

As as single woman, she pursued ‘freedom in every direction. Sexual pleasure, that’s a big deal.’ 

Boss lady: By 2013, she was already launching her own shoe line after finding investors ‘in the craziest places,’ including on a plane and in an eye doctor’s office 

‘It genuinely didn’t occur to me that I would fail, because I was so f***ing ignorant,’ she said of her bold new career choice

Movin’ on up: She didn’t fail, though, and ultimately landed a collaboration with La Perla. By 2016, she was the brand’s creative director

‘Forty-three years of my life have been stolen from me. I don’t have time,’ she said (pictured with Anna Wintour)

‘I’d never been kissed by someone I had chosen. When I left, I basically went crazy. I think the first guy I was with was a Cirque du Soleil guy,’ she said.

Freedom also included wearing whatever she wanted and fully embracing her love of fashion. She says in the docu-series, ‘I was covered up my entire life, so to me, every low-cut top, every miniskirt, is an emblem of freedom.’

By 2013, she was already launching her own shoe line after finding investors ‘in the craziest places,’ including on a plane and in an eye doctor’s office. 

‘It genuinely didn’t occur to me that I would fail, because I was so f***ing ignorant,’ she said of her bold new career choice.

She didn’t fail, though, and ultimately landed a collaboration with La Perla. By 2016, she was the brand’s creative director. 

‘Forty-three years of my life have been stolen from me. I don’t have time,’ she said.

In 2017, she designed Met Gala dresses for Kendall Jenner and Mary J. Blige, whom she accompanied to the A-list event. As creative director, her designs were also worn by stars like Naomi Campbell, Anna Kendrick, Lily Collins, Lea Michele, Laure Dern, Padma Lakshmi, and Kourtney Kardashian.

New hubby: La Perla not only offered her a stellar career, but another chance at marital bliss: It’s where she met the company’s owner, Silvio Scaglia, whom she would marry in 2019

Livin’ life! As as single woman, she pursued ‘freedom in every direction. Sexual pleasure, that’s a big deal’

‘I’d never been kissed by someone I had chosen. When I left, I basically went crazy. I think the first guy I was with was a Cirque du Soleil guy,’ she said

Fun with fashion: She says in the docu-series, ‘I was covered up my entire life, so to me, every low-cut top, every miniskirt, is an emblem of freedom’

La Perla not only offered her a stellar career, but another chance at marital bliss: It’s where she met the company’s owner, Silvio Scaglia, whom she would go on to marry in 2019. 

‘We are very independent, strong-willed people, and he loves my independence, so to me, before, marriage was a prison. So, now I realize that you can be married, you can love someone, and you can still have your own freedom and individuality, and I think that’s beautiful. I love love,’ she told Oprah Daily. 

That same year, she was named CEO of Elite World Group, which represents more than 4,000 models, actors, singers, and artists.

Her next project is the Netflix series, which she stars in alongside her husband and four kids — who are also adjusting to an unorthodox life.

Batsheva, like her mother, was married at 19 before Julia left the community. She still keeps Shabbat — which involves a set of strict rules for observing the sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night — but is also an FIT graduate and popular TikToker with 1.3 million followers.

Miriam is now an app designer who discusses her bisexual orientation in the series, with her mom’s full support.

Stepping out: Her daughter Batsheva still keeps Shabbat — which involves a set of strict rules for observing the sabbath — but is also a popular TikToker with 1.3 million followers

In the show: Her son Shlomo seems to have had a bit more trouble adjusting to secular life


‘The fact that my children are with me, and they’re my best friends in the world — it’s a f*** miracle,’ Julia said (pictured with Miriam)

Religious shift: Julia stresses that though she has left fundamentalism behind, she is still spiritual and loves being Jewish (pictured with Aron)

She added: I have no anger towards the community. I think everyone there is a victim. People innately just want to be good.’

Meanwhile, her son Shlomo is a law school student with limited dating experience — in the show, he reveals that he finally had his first kiss — and youngest son Aaron, 14, still attends high school and wears a yarmulke while dividing time between his parents’ homes.

Julia said she has a friendly relationship with her ex-husband, but is estranged from most of her siblings. She has a few friends who’ve supported her, but ‘mostly everyone else dropped me like a hot potato.’ 

But Julia stresses that though she has left fundamentalism behind, she is still spiritual and loves being Jewish. 

‘We still do Passover, my style, because I’m in a bikini and they’re eating kosher food. But it works,’ she said. ‘The fact that my children are with me, and they’re my best friends in the world — it’s a f*** miracle.’

She added: I have no anger towards the community. I think everyone there is a victim. People innately just want to be good.’

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