Members of the Shtisel family have to deal with the death of a loved one, failed relationships, finding a steady job, problems at work and criticism about falling in love and not wanting to settle. But the Shtisels happen to be haredi Orthodox Jews, and live in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem.
This is the simple concept for the first season of the Israeli TV series Shtisel, which aired on Israel’s YES Oh channel last summer and was met with commercial and critical success. The first three episodes will make their U.S. premiere next week as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival.
Directed by Alon Zingman (Toothache, Dusk), the first episode introduces us to the Shtisel family a year after the matriarch’s death. Oldest son Akiva (Michael Aloni) is still having visions of his mother and is the only one in the family still single, which isn’t sitting well with his father, Rabbi Sholem Shtisel (Dov’le Glickman).
Akiva has gone on numerous dates set up by matchmakers, but dating doesn’t seem to be his forte. Neither does substitute teaching at his father’s school, where he can’t keep his class under control. Akiva is at his happiest when he’s sketching lemurs at the local zoo.
Things start to change when he meets Elisheva (renowned Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, Man of Steel), the mother of one of his students. Akiva is immediately enamored with Elisheva and doesn’t care that she’s twice-widowed, a revelation to which his father responds, “What’s the matter with you? Are you defective? A bed wetter?”
Elisheva has mutual feelings for Akiva, and even parallels his current state of being when she has visions of her two dead husbands. After three episodes, it’s clear their unfavorable relationship will be a challenge they face the rest of the season.
But Akiva isn’t the only one with a complicated life. Rabbi Sholem deals with a secret relationship with a fellow colleague and divorcee, while Akiva’s sister Giti (Neta Riskin) is left to support four children after her husband abandons them.
While not much actually happens in the first three episodes, the powerful performances alone are enough to draw viewers in, particularly those of Aloni and Zurer. After the end of episode three, many will be left wanting more.
Shtisel paints a picture of ordinary life in a community many know nothing about, yet it’s not difficult to relate to its depictions of family conflict and the hardships of falling in love.
The first three episodes of Shtisel premiere March 2, 2 p.m. at Adas Israel. Second screening March 5, 7 p.m. at the Goethe Institut. For tickets, go to wjff.org.