I’m referring, of course, to Shtisel, an Israeli TV show first aired in 2013 that’s become a worldwide sensation on Netflix. It’s so big that when UJA announced we’d be joining The Jewish Week and the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center to host an event featuring the cast and producer, the temple’s 2,300-seat sanctuary sold out within hours. We then pleaded with the cast and our partners to do a second night, and it sold out just as fast.
And so over two nights this week, about 4,600 New Yorkers of all types filled a Reform temple to hear secular Israeli actors, mostly from worldly Tel Aviv, talk about inhabiting Haredi characters who live in an insular ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood.
That’s the Shtisel effect.
The highly talented cast members still seem a little mystified by all the attention. They explained that when they started filming, they never expected anybody would be interested in what felt like a “niche” show about Haredim. The dialogue is in Hebrew and Yiddish, with English subtitles. There are no sex scenes or car chases. One of the actors spoke about a time during filming when she felt disappointed with her performance in a rushed scene, and recalled being consoled by a crew member who told her “no one would watch anyway.”
But, amazingly, Israelis of all walks of life fell in love with Shtisel when it first aired, and the show gained a massive die-hard fan base when it was released internationally.
While Shtisel lifts a curtain on the ultra-Orthodox in Israel, I don’t believe it’s their “otherness” audiences found so intriguing — it’s the recognition of how much we have in common. The show demystifies the Haredi community, reminding us that despite differences in how we may dress and practice Judaism, a core humanity connects us all.
At UJA, we work every day to empower and connect Jews of every background and belief, locally and globally. It’s at the heart of who we are and what we represent.
Within the Haredi world, in both New York and Israel, we’re funding significant social service and educational programs, providing a path to economic empowerment. And in the process, we’re strengthening the ties between us. To get a taste of our work, watch this.
Because as much as we love Shtisel, even the best TV show can only take us so far. We need to harness that same passion for a fictional universe and apply it to real life and real people, allowing us to create a stronger and more cohesive Jewish community — one that celebrates all our stories.