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TV Series Understanding Shtisel, the Israeli TV Series on Netflix

Pauline

Forums Admin
As @Jim Zurer posted, Season 3 of Shtisel starts on March 25 on Netflix. The previous two seasons are available now on Netflix. I recommended them to some non-Jewish friends and they are enjoying the series. It made me realize that many things are not explained in the series, things that people might miss if they are not familiar with Orthdox-Jewish and/or Israeli life, so I thought I would start this thread to point out the things I notice, hoping others will jump in. I know that I am no expert on this, but I have learned a thing or two on our trips to Israel, so I am going to give it a go.

HAREDI
In Shtisel the main characters are Haredi, a type of orthodox Judaism which has something in common with regular Judaism, but is more extreme. They observe a more strict set of religious laws.

From Wikipedia: Haredi Judaism (Hebrew: חֲרֵדִי‎ Ḥaredi, IPA: [ħaʁeˈdi]; also spelled Charedi, plural Haredim or Charedim) consists of groups within Orthodox Judaism characterized by a strict adherence to halakha (Jewish law) and traditions, as opposed to modern values and practices. Its members are usually referred to as ultra-Orthodox in English; however, the term "ultra-Orthodox" is considered pejorative by some of its adherents who prefer terms like strictly Orthodox.[3] Haredi Jews regard themselves as the most religiously authentic group of Jews, although this claim is contested by other streams of Judaism.

LANGUAGE
Hebrew is the official language of Israel and was adopted when Israel was formed, even though most European Jews who came to Israel spoke Yiddish (a dialect of German), because they did not want to bring the language of the ghetto to the new country.

In Shtisel, the Haredi characters speak Yiddish to each other and Hebrew when they are out of their community. To a non-Hebrew/non-Yiddish speaker, this is not apparent because we are reading the English subtitles and they don't indicate which language is being spoken.

CLOTHING
Men: It is my understanding that the traditional dress for men, with the black suits, white shirts and hats, dates back to how religious Jews dressed in Eastern Europe, before they fled to Israel (then Palestine) for safety. They wear black hats on a daily basis and have fur hats, shtreimel, for special occasions. They also wear a tallit, a fringe that hangs down from their shirt.

Women: Women do not wear trousers, which are considered immodest, but wear long dresses/skirts. After marriage they have to cover their hair, but the tradition now is to cover it with a wig, which I find confusing because it is still hair and looks attractive.

israel-shtisel-1.jpg

Two Haredi on a bus in Jerusalem.

LOCATION
Shtisel is set in Jerusalem where the family live in a crowded Haredi neighborhood called Ge'ula. Ge'ula and Mea She'arim are adjoining neighborhoods in the center of Jerusalem, a few blocks north of Jaffa Street, one of the main streets in Western Jerusalem, where the light rail runs.

Google Map

In season 1, the older woman that Akiva is in love with, goes to her apartment in Bnei Brak, an orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, on its eastern edge.

In either season 1 or 2, Akiva spends a night at a fellow artists house in Ein Karem but then realizes he has forgotton to pray so he goes back to his neighborhood where daily prayer is central to his life. Ein Karem is a beautiful suburb on the western edge of Jerusalem. [edited]

In season 1 Akiva goes to the art gallery and I recognized a sign on the street so took a photo the next time I was in Jerusalem. I think the art gallery was on the street across from the King David Hotel.

israel-shtisel-2.jpg

Scene from Shtisel was shot here.

TRANSPORTATION
In season 1 we see Akiva taking a shared taxi, a sherut. These are mini vans that wait until they are full and then take everyone to a destination and are an alternative to the bus or train.

COOKING
Kosher food laws require that meat and dairy not be mixed in meals. When we rent apartments in Jerusalem, they are usually Kosher, which means there are separate dishes, cutlery and pots - one for cooking with meat, the other for cooking with dairy. They even have different dishwashing sponges - one for meat, one for dairy. You are asked to follow the cooking rules and it is easy for us because we don't eat meat or much dairy. If we bring butter into the apartment, I keep it very separate from everything. That way we can use any of the dishes (and are careful only if using butter).

In Shtisel they have two sinks - one for meat, one for dairy. I have read about this but have not see this in person.

FOOD
In Israel you find a middle-Eastern style of food everywhere - hummus, falafel, tahini. You don't see this as much in Shtisel. They seem to eat more Eastern European foods. But they do make salads, which are very popular in Israel.

---------

That is all I can think of for now. Post below with corrections or other things we should notice and I will add them to this original post. @ItalophileNJ I am counting on you!
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
ACTORS
Doval'e Glickman who plays the father is a well-known comedian in Israel.

Michael Aloni who plays Akiva has been in other Israeli movies.

Shira Haas who plays Ruchami Weiss was the lead in "Unorthodox".
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
I'm here, Pauline! As we discussed offline, I think you've pretty much got everything important right. I've seen the first episode through a special "evening" sponsored by Temple Emanuel in New York, and it was very good. A friend with very good Hebrew has been watching the show on the Israeli website "S'darot", no English subtitles. I've tried, but too hard for me. (I've put said dear friend on Facebook snooze because, athough she is not posting real spoilers, her reactions are too tantalizing.)
Shtisel is starting on Netflix here in the US JUST before Shabbat and Passover. Really???

Edited to add: Wow, Pauline, I just saw your list of references. Impressive. Or, as we might say in Hebrew "Yasher Koach".... literally "straight strenght" but more like Congratulation, or Good job!
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Edited to add: Wow, Pauline, I just saw your list of references. Impressive. Or, as we might say in Hebrew "Yasher Koach".... literally "straight strenght" but more like Congratulation, or Good job!
For anyone interested, my latest reading on a Jewish theme:

Hadley Freeman, The House of Glass. She is a writer for the Guardian and I always like her columns. The book was excellent, about her family in France before, during and after WWII.

David Baddiel, Jews Don't Count. Short book by a well known British Jew about how left wing people who are against racism never consider antisemitism to be real racism.

Esther Saffron Foer, I Want you to Know We are Still Here. Epic story about finding her family roots in eastern Europe.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We are almost finished season 3 and it is excellent. I read that they are deciding whether or not to do another season.

In one episode the father is discussing government services and says to not let the Zionists get involved. I think this is because the Haredi are not really involved in the state of Israel, and wanting Jews to have a country of their own (Zionists). They just want to live how they live, that's it.

In season 3 they mention that sometimes they speak in Yiddish. This was never mentioned before but the characters did speak in Yiddish to each other and in Hebrew to people outside the family.

Season 3 has the theme of strong women. It is interesting how they are playing this out. In Haredi families frequently the husband studies the torah all day in organized groups and receives a small payment from the group, but women work and are the main bread winners. They have shown this situation throughout the show.
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
I am about to start watching the series again... reviewing Season Two, or at least part of it.

"...In Haredi families frequently the husband studies the torah all day in organized groups and receives a small payment from the group,..."

You're right about the men studying all day...but the subsidy they get is from the Israeli government they refuse to participate in, so far as I understand it. As you can imagine, this leads to some resentments from other Israelis. And it was one reason that I had avoided watching this sympathetic depiction of the Lithuanian Haredim of Jerusalem. But the show was just too good to resist.

If I'm wrong here, and the situation has already changed ;-) , I am sure someone will let me know.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
You're right about the men studying all day...but the subsidy they get is from the Israeli government they refuse to participate in, so far as I understand it.
That is what I have been told too but in season 3 a study group shuts down because they lose the person who sponsors them, so I wondered about that.

I tell friends to watch this show but then I point out that it is sympathetic to the Haredi and they really do some horrible things, so they must wonder why I recommend the show! Probably we should think about it as learning about a different culture. It is just a great family drama involving people who live with very different rules and values.
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
Yes, and we probably shouldn't do as I just did and talk about "the Haredim" as each person is an individual. And that is me after many weekly classes on the wrongness of "othering" groups of people, even, or especially, Jews doing it to other Jews.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Still, a great show. I will watch season 3 again. There were a couple of locations that I want to figure out. I don’t want to do any spoilers. One scene is a car parked a good drive from central Jerusalem. Where is that? The other is a couple on a bench with a view of the Old City, which must be in that park beside the King David hotel.
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
I think maybe the car parked a good drive from central Jerusalem is near the Har haMenuchot cemetery (literally, "the hilltop of the resting ones).

I just finished watching the Season 3 last night, very well done I thought. My Hebrew is not good enough to watch without English subtitles, but good enough to know that the translation was not perfect, typical I guess. Toward the later episodes, there was quite a bit of Yiddish, especially between Shulem and Nuchem, as they get down and dirty. And the protagonists and the plot continue to exist outside of any political context, Israeli or Middle Eastern.

I've read that there is a plan afoot to make a US version. Why? "Homeland" was the US version of the Israeli "Prisoners of War" which was extraordinarily powerful, much more gripping I thought than the adaptation.
 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Shtisel--Season 3....finished. A lovely show--looking forward to Season 4 (if there is one).

 

Jim Zurer

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
I've read that there is a plan afoot to make a US version. Why? "Homeland" was the US version of the Israeli "Prisoners of War" which was extraordinarily powerful, much more gripping I thought than the adaptation.
The projected US version will be more of a Romeo and Juliet-themed show.....

"....a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story about an ultra-progressive, over-achieving secular eighteen-year-old young woman on the verge of personal freedom, and the strictly observant Orthodox young man to whom she is powerfully drawn – so powerfully that she is willing to uproot her entire life to be with him.”

 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
I think for a broad US audience at least one of the protagonists must be “struggling” with and thinking of leaving the observant life, whereas in “Shtisel” all are trying to find the best way to stay Haredim.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Interesting article in the New York Times today by Thomas Friedman about the situation with the Haredi in Israel and how they are supported by the current government.

Israelis and Americans Both Are Asking, Whose Country Is This Anyway?

From the article: “Haredi families, he said, now average seven children, and in 50 percent of their households the men do not work, but instead engage in religious study thanks to government subsidies; do not serve in the army; and generally deprive their children of the core curriculum in math, science, computing and reading — “which is mandated by law in every developed country, other than Israel — that could give them economic independence as adults and likely loosen the grip of the religious establishment on them.””
 

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