The slow but steady pace of “Shtisel”, an Israeli series that first aired on Israeli TV in 2013, is back. This coming 25 March, the show returns to Netflix with season three, so we thought it more than merits some composed analyses if not only given the fallout from the series itself, a family drama about love, loss and the transformation of the lives of a Jewish orthodox family, but also for its surprise success. A mixture of luck, algorithms, and the premiere of the new miniseries, “Unorthodox” in 2020.
To begin at the beginning, “Shtisel” narrates the day-to-day of a Haredi family residing in a strictly orthodox district of Jerusalem. The rigorous standards they live by, regulating everything from, what they can eat, to how it should be prepared, their limited relations, and their absolute religious devotion; as well as the social isolation, reflected in their attire, their lack of cell phones, televisions, or Internet, would be the first thing to catch audiences’ eye. But the more the series advances, this fictional work reveals a costumbrismo drama where these folk, apparently so ‘other world’ for us, are asking the same questions we are.
The unyielding rabbi Shulem (Dov Glickman), family patriarch, strives to overcome the loss of his wife Dvora, who passed away a year ago. The dreamer Akiva (Michael Aloni), the youngest member of the Shtisel family, lives in permanent conflict between reality and his dreams: there isn’t a matchmaker alive who can find him a wife to his liking because secretly, he’s in love with a widow; dreams of becoming an artist, a career much frowned upon within the community, when he should be thinking about starting a family and settling down to a life of devotion as a school teacher in the traditional school, or cheder, his father runs.
The dutiful son Zvi Arie (Sarel Piterman) the eldest boy, and the most devout of all, a man who labors under the load of feeling life owes him his just desserts. The self-sacrificing Giti (Neta Riskin) breaking her back to bring up her five children after husband, Lippe (Zohar Strauss), while in Buenos Aires working as a butcher, abandoned them. Giti struggles along, all the while concealing the truth of what happened from her family to save herself the social stigma and shame, while her eldest daughter Ruchami (Shira Haas), is forced to renege on her adolescence to help her mother out.
The young Ruchami, or more precisely, an excellent performance by Shira Haas is, in a nutshell, the key to the prodigious hit status of “Shtisel”. On 26 March 2020, in full throes of global lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Netflix premiered miniseries “Unorthodox”. Inspired by the memoirs of writer Deborah Feldman, this drama narrates the tale of a young Jewish orthodox woman who abandons her arranged marriage in New York’s Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg, fleeing to Berlin, where her mother lives. Haas plays our protagonist, Esty Shapiro, nominated for an Emmy for her role, which also required her to speak Yiddish, a language she had never spoken being a native Hebrew speaker.
“Unorthodox” became an overnight phenomenon on Netflix, in great part due to word of mouth and the pot luck (foresight) on the platform’s part brought audiences, hungry for more orthodox Jewish tales “Shtisel”. The first two seasons, each with 12 episodes, were broadcast in Israel in 2013 and 2015, then Netflix began showing it in 2019. But the impact from “Unorthodox” was such, that only a few weeks after the miniseries went on air, showrunners were already announcing a third season “Shtisel”, which would of course feature none other than Shira Haas, naturally.
Last December, series producers, Israeli channel Yes, started showing the new episodes in Israel, and Netflix follows suit this coming 25 March. “This season was made possible by the love and support we’ve received from fans and audiences worldwide”, admitted series producer Dikla Barkai, not surprising seeing as series creators “Shtisel”, Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, had been trying to continue with the series for years.
The drama reignites life with the Shtisel’s some years later with two new signings: Daniella Kertesz (“World War Z”) and Reef Neeman, best known for her work in another Yes series distributed successfully by Netflix, “Fauda”. As we can see in the trailer, as existential as they may be mundane family goings-on, they’re still the same, delivered with that same particular blend of humor, drama, and constant nods to food. It’s hardly surprising in a society where leisure is unknown, and your entire social life revolves around a dish. But then that’s another story.