Many of us have increased our TV screen time during these prolonged periods of shutdown. The “third wave” will provide even more time to have a drink, eat popcorn, and find something else to watch. So, it is time for another Netflix recommendation. Shtisel is a pearl. Seasons 1 and 2 were shown in Israel in 2013 and 2014. Netflix added them to its platform in 2018. After watching the trailer a year or two ago, I decided that I had better things to watch. What a mistake!
Netflix picked up the 9-episode season 3 which it began streaming this March 25. The “new program” notice had a new and improved trailer. So on a quiet Sunday evening with PBS re-running its pledge break shows a 500th time, we started watching. After the first five minutes, we were hooked. I am almost embarrassed to admit that five days later, we have run through all thirty-three episodes.
Essentially a family drama, Shtisel takes place in Jerusalem’s “strictly” orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods of Geula and Mea She’arim. The story explores universal themes of love marriage, divorce, loyalty, betrayal, jealousy, avarice, and revenge. As all the principal characters are Haredim, these universal themes get a dose of complexity.
The two main characters are Shulem ( Dov Glickman) and Akiva (Michael Aloni) Shtisel, respectively father and son. When the story begins, Akiva lives at home with his father, whose wife has been dead for a year. Akiva wants to pursue a career as an artist, apparently not a honourable pursuit for a “righteous” man. His father teaches in a cheder, an orthodox elementary school.
Shulem wants his son to pursue a traditional life, as a teacher and married to a woman chosen through a matchmaker. Akiva wants to paint, he doesn’t want to teach. Also, he wants to follow his heart and falls in love with a twice-widowed “religious woman”. This will not be the last relationship that frustrates his father. You may well be thinking that Akiva will lose his faith. He doesn’t, but he struggles with the conventions of a strictly “Jewish” life.
Throughout the series, the main story-line and the various sub-plots offer a glimpse into the lives of the Haredim.
We learn about:
It is not a travelogue for Jerusalem. While the series shows glimpses of the beautiful city, it is filmed in much less picturesque areas.
The acting is simply excellent throughout. It is easy to imagine Glickman as Shulem and Aloni as Akiva in a real father and son relationship. You always suspect that Shulem doesn’t really want Akiva married so that he doesn’t have to live alone. My personal favourite was Sarel Piterman as Zvi Arye. It is a lesser role, but the man can sing and he can act.
I am in no position to judge the accuracy of the portrayal of Haredim life in Jerusalem. Regardless, it is excellent television. That should not have been a surprise . I have watched all of Fauda, a very high quality series about a morally ambivalent anti-terrorist unit operating in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli television has an excellent reputation. Shtisel is a pearl.
Hebrew and Yiddish, with subtitles.
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