The Israeli Ultra-Orthodox ‘Real Housewives’ Is a Delight – Kveller

This month, a truly unique Israeli reality show premiered on entertainment network HOT. It’s called “Bnot Brak,” a pun on the Israeli ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak. Bnei means ‘sons of’ and ‘bnot’ means ‘daughters of’ – and the subjects of the show are five women from the Haredi sector who have roots in the neighborhood: Nana Halperin, Simi Hershkop, Ofra Shimoni, Yael Silverman and Esty Socolovski.

Some would call it the Israeli version of My Unorthodox Life. Like the hit Netflix show, it follows successful, glamorous women who were born into the Orthodox Jewish community. But unlike Julia Haart, all five stars of “Bnot Brak” still identify as Haredi — even if they don’t pretend to speak for their community. They are all social media influencers in their own way and independently successful beyond the show. Many are part of a growing group of “modern” Haredi women (though not all embrace the term “modern”) who make a living through social media, many as beauty influencers, make-up artists and headwear makers.

Hershkop runs Dos Celebs, the largest religious entertainment Instagram. The word “dos” is Israeli slang for religious people and is often used in a pejorative way, but Hershkop has taken both the term — and the idea of ​​a celebrity gossip account — and given it a positive spin. As Hershkop says of reporting on the show, “It doesn’t have to be bad gossip, there can be good gossip.”

As for the show’s other stars, Shimoni is an entrepreneur who works in design and architecture, Silverman is an activist and wig maker, Socolovski runs a popular makeup site, and Halperin is a homemaker who used to run a home business an accessory line and uses her Instagram to get secular Jews to appreciate her Haredi community.

“My worldview is Haredi,” says Halperin, who comes from a wealthy family, on the show; Her appearance, admits the fashion-conscious mother of five, seems less like it. She wants to show the world a more sophisticated and stylish version of her city, which is one of the most populated and also one of the poorest cities in Israel.

“Bnot Brak” might be better defined as the ultra-orthodox version of “Real Housewives” because it represents the life of the average housewife just as well as the American reality TV show franchise—that is, actually Not. Aside from the fact that you won’t find much drama here, these women take the whole lashon hara thing pretty seriously. Instead, they’re working together on a women-only “chulentia,” a Thursday night pop-up that offers cholent, a hearty Shabbat stew.

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The show also covers some serious issues. In one episode, Hershkop talks about extensive bullying she experienced as a child and teenager in Bnei Brak by her fellow students. (She has launched an online anti-bullying campaign, along with Dos Celebs and other orthodox influencers, aimed at the religious sector.) Clearly, these women are both built and broken down by their religious Jews .

“Bnot Brak” aren’t exactly your average, well, Bnot Braks, especially in this particular Jewish community where most rabbis believe that social media should not be used by anyone – least of all women. This summer, a group of Orthodox Jewish influencers, all of whom closely resemble the stars of “Bnot Brak,” collectively shut down their social media accounts after a rally admonishing Orthodox Jewish women to put their internet accounts behind.

The “Bnot Brak” stars know that most rabbis wouldn’t be happy with their social media presence — and they all have different ways of mitigating that. Nina Halperin says she feels like God’s messenger on Instagram. Hershkop says she believes social media needs to be a part of modern Haredi life. And Shimoni says that without her business, she would never be on Instagram.

The women have differing views on many other hot topics – while some, like Esty, drive, others are chauffeured by men (and the occasional female cab driver). They also disagree on whether Haredi boys deserve a good primary education, a hot topic in Israel long before the New York Times’ recent report on secular education in Hasidic Brooklyn. In the Jewish state, most women study subjects such as math, English, and science, while boys are restricted to only religious education. Hershkop and Silverman believe their sons deserve a good general education, while Halperin recently revealed that she opposes Haredi boys studying outside the religious sphere.

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They also have various ways of easing tensions between their families’ stricter observance and theirs. Hershkop’s siblings and parents, for example, know nothing about Dos Celebs or the show, while Silverman sends letters to her offline father about the show.

However, the women’s families play an important role in the show – particularly their husbands (and in Halperin’s case, their adult sons). For the most part, they seem to love their successful wives and seem to be active partners in celebrating and enabling their accomplishments. Some very cute scenes include conversations between partners, as Shimoni talks about how her husband supported her through the loss of her mother before they got married.

The production value of “Bnot Brak” is, well, the production value of an Israeli reality TV show. Certainly you can feel the sometimes stubborn touch of the production and its involvement. But the show really shines because of its cast. These women have a way of being authentic and compelling, beyond the trappings of reality TV. They are fun and witty with each other and with their families.

“The most Haredi thing is to tell people you’re not Haredi,” Silverman joked in a recent television interview.

These aren’t the same characters we see on shows like “Shtisel” or “Unorthodox” — all five women are powerful and loud, and for the most part incredibly cheerful. The conflict one would expect from a show about Haredi women is often absent; there is no discomfort, no feeling that they don’t belong, no feeling that they are being pushed to shrink. Even when they reveal their most conservative views, these five women are happy to take their space and own their differences.

Bnot Brak is designed to be fun – a reality TV game that you watch after a long day at work. “Haredi girls, they want to have fun,” it seems to be saying. And they do. And honestly? It’s pretty convincing to see them when they’re glowing.

Bnot Brak is currently unavailable outside of Israel (although you can stream the first episode!), but you can follow its stars on social media:

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Nana Halperin on Instagram

As a marathon runner, Halperin also started a mass candle-lighting initiative in her hometown of Tel Aviv. Raised as one of the only Haredi families in the secular city, she decided to raise her five sons in Bnei Brak. She shares her cooking tips and Bible verses on Instagram. She ran the accessories brand Nana H for 15 years until she sold it. And in case you’re wondering, Nana is missing Shoshana.

Simi Hershkop on Dos Celebs / on her personal page

Hershkop grew up in Bnei Brak and left the city with her husband for Jerusalem after years of feeling an outcast. Now she runs one of the largest Instagram pages for religious celebrity gossip. Through Dos Celebs, she mostly shares articles from secular or less religious celebrities doing things that bring them closer to observance — praying, putting on tefillin, and more.

Ofra Shimoni on Instagram / DiraNaa / Bufet Magazine

Ofra Shimoni is a liaison – she runs two magazines, Dira Naa and Buffet. She makes connections between vendors and architects to create some beautiful homes that she later photographs for her magazines. Very few of these apartments are actually in Bnei Brak, which Shimoni says is full of opulent and carefully constructed homes, but incredibly secluded.

Yael Silverman on Instagram / On TikTok

Yael Silverman is by far the most radical of the girls – I mean, she listens to Haaretz’s weekly podcast! She thinks she’s a feminist! She makes politically minded TikToks! She’s a hoot too. The 27-year-old mum is a wig maker and her Instagram page is also very business oriented, with advice, explanations and tips on buying and styling a wig.

Esty Socolovski on Instagram

Esty does not consider herself a Haredi influencer. A makeup artist with a contagious spirit, she lives with her husband and three children on the border between Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. She works a lot in the Haredi sector, doing makeup for brides and events. Esty is definitely a crowd pleaser because she is feisty, confident and adorable. “If I don’t stand up, who will?” She paraphrases the famous line on the show.

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