It’s been more than four years since “Shtisel” released a new episode, much to the chagrin of its fans. But that is about to change.
Last month, “Shtisel” star Shira Haas shared a photo of herself on Facebook peeking out from behind a script labeled “Shtisel Season 3.” That was followed by YES studios, which produces “Shtisel,” posting other images of cast members with scripts or in costumes.
It’s unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect production, but what does seem certain is that new episodes are on their way. If the messiah can come, so can “Shtisel.”
The Israeli drama has gathered followers around the world, particularly after the series began streaming on Netflix in 2018. It follows the members of the fictional Shtisel family as they deal with love, loss and other universal themes.
The clan’s patriarch is Rabbi Shulem Shtisel (Dov Glickman), whose wife dies about a year before the start of the series. He lives with his youngest son, Akiva (Michael Aloni), who works as a teacher while nursing artistic aspirations and looking for love. Shulem’s daughter, Giti (Neta Riskin), struggles to make ends meet after her husband leaves her and her children.
All this happens against a setting that, until the show’s debut, was unusual for a drama. “Shtisel” takes place in Geula, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. The men wear dark and peyot, or sidecurls; the women long skirts and wigs. But for the most part, Geula and ultra-Orthodoxy are the backdrop. The Shtisels don’t struggle with their faith or community. This drama, like any soap opera, is driven by relationships.
For many fans, that’s what makes the show so special.
Washington resident Inger Mobley is one of those fans. She fell in love with the show for its characters, who have kept her company in quarantine. “I’m still stuck at home, and it made me feel like I had a place to escape,” said Mobley, who has now watched the series twice.
Rabbi Eli Yoggev, of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore, was impressed by how the show represents the haredi community.
“‘Shtisel’ is a positive depiction of the Orthodox world I know,” he said.
Yoggev grew up in a similar community and appreciates the show’s hopeful portrayal. The show’s popularity initially piqued his interest, but what drew Yoggev to binge all 24 episodes within three days was its sincerity.
“I joined [that community] of my own volition and the show gives a homey feeling,” he said. “It’s normal people with feelings and ups and downs.”
While problems exist in the Orthodox world as they do in any other community, “there’s a certain majestic charm of the [Orthodox] community, which people often don’t know because of how they’re depicted in the news,” he said. “But choosing that community on my own, I feel like that beauty is best depicted in ‘Shtisel.’”
“There are issues, but I just feel like ‘Shtisel’ did a good job in balancing out to some extent the view that is often adopted in broader culture of it as a foreign, weird, and standoffish community,” Yoggev continued.
Yoggev said he thought the show could help people understand the haredi community more. Mendy Schoenes, a Chasidic Jew in Baltimore, shares this perspective. Schoenes appreciates “Shtisel” for the overall storyline, the writers and the fact that “the characters have struggles, they don’t live in a mansion.” He was particularly moved by the show’s idea of finding one’s way in life, and relates to it.
Josh Glancy, writing for the Jewish Chronicle in London, said that “Shtisel” changed his idea of the haredi community. “‘Shtisel’ is the first time I’ve seen the Charedi community depicted as fully-rounded people. … There is caustic wit and marital strife, wine and song and lashings of fragrant kugel. They fall in and out of love, smoke like hard-bitten newspaper hacks, scheme and fight and cry and laugh just like the rest of us.”
Online, “Shtisel” fan groups have thousands of members. “Shtisel” – Let’s Talk About It, a group on Facebook, has more than 22,000 members, who post questions, comments and news about the show.
In Greenbelt, Mishkan Torah Synagogue held gatherings for “Shtisel” fans to geek out, watch the show, and share bagels and good times, until quarantine put a halt to that.
Rabbi Saul Oresky of Mishkan Torah is a fan of the show himself. He particularly appreciates the redemptive arc of the character Lippe, Giti’s estranged husband.“It showed people in this community to be really, truly fleshed-out real people with a full range of human emotions, which is not sometimes how the rest of the Jewish world even sees those communities.
They either idealize them or treat them as different creatures entirely,” said Oresky.
The complex characterizations help viewers empathize with and understand the Orthodox community. Even more, they are simply “more fair to the people involved,” said Oresky.
“Shtisel” allowed him to explore the dynamic nature of humans,” said Oresky. It presents Orthodox Jews as people capable of making mistakes, but also deserving of love.
For Mobley, the romance of “Shtisel” is what draws her in, particularly Akiva’s relationship with an older widow named Elisheva. The feelings they have for each other are not expressed through body language, but rather through a rich palette of facial emotions.
But, to Mobley, “Shtisel” is more than that.
When the characters were heartbroken, she was heartbroken. When a certain character didn’t see how devoted another was, it reminded her of her own experiences with stifled affections.
In a similar way to how Akiva and Elisheva loved each other, but were restricted in how they expressed it, Mobley’s mother never told her she loved her. She died without ever having said the words. Still, Mobley knew her mother loved her. She felt it through her mom’s actions.
“Even if you can’t show affection outwardly, it kind of comes across anyway. I come from a family like that so it’s what I’m used to. I understand there’s still concern and love, it’s just not expressed.”
In his piece for the Jewish Chronicle, Glancy explains how the show succeeds in being relatable to its viewers.
“Finally,” he writes, “someone has taken me into this strange, confusing world, and shown it to be just as complex and human as my own.”
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