"Shtisel": Not Your Average TV Show
Recently, Netflix added the hit Israeli TV show “Shtisel” to its already wide-ranging global selection of TV shows. In many ways, “Shtisel” is like any other TV show, except “Shtisel,” as its name might already suggest, is centered around an ultra-Orthodox family living in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood. Besides for being incredibly authentic and funny, “Shtisel”’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to present a community that many are unfamiliar with and misinformed about in an incredibly humanistic way.
The show follows the recently widowed Shulem Shtisel, a life-long melamed (school teacher) at a local cheder (ultra-Orthodox primary school), as he is overwhelmed with responsibilities. Five out of his six children are married, but he’s still helping support all of them. His youngest son, Akiva, or as the show refers to him, the majinsk (Yiddish for youngest child), still lives at home and often clashes with his father for turning down too many shidduch offers and trying to pursue his artistic interests, which his father considers to be a waste of time.
Shulem, while living a strict charedi lifestyle, is also internally conflicted. He makes secret visits to the home of the cheder’s secretary, also a recent widower. However, while the secretary makes subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints about the possibility of marriage, Shulem is oblivious, more interested in her cooking than in her as a long-term love interest.
The show also follows the lives of Shulem’s other children and elderly mother affectionately known as Bubby Malcha, who, since moving into a nursing home, is obsessed with Western television shows, even inserting some of the fictional characters on the shows into her Tehillim list. Perhaps one of the funniest parts of the show is when Shulem finds secular names such as “Brook Bas Bridget” and “Rich Bas Stephanie” in her Tehillim booklet. At first he’s confounded, but then he realizes that his mother believes that these TV characters are actually real and therefore in need of prayer. Gitti, one of his daughters, is forced to support herself and her children after her husband leaves her for a non-Jewish woman while working as a shochet in Argentina. Another one of Shulem’s daughters, Racheli, severed her relationship with her father when she left the charedi community for a Chabad-Hasidic lifestyle. Tzvi Aryeh, Akiva’s older brother, studies at a local kollel. But while Tzvi Aryeh seems to have the most traditional and stable ultra-Orthodox lifestyle of anyone in the Shtisel family, at times he becomes uncertain of the fulfillment he can attain in the kollel lifestyle and questions whether he should have abandoned his childhood dream of becoming a singer.
Death and grievance are also a big part of the show. Members of the Shtisel family have recurring flashbacks and hallucinations of the late Devorah Shtisel, the wife of Shulem Shtisel and the mother of his children. These flashbacks and hallucinations usually present themselves when the characters are dealing with difficult decisions or situations. When Shulem is offered various shidduch offers for himself, he is torn between staying committed to the memory of his late wife and moving forward.
While “Shtisel” originally aired two seasons of twelve episodes each between 2013 and 2016, its rise in popularity due to its availability on Netflix has generated rumors about a possible third season.
When considering which new TV show to watch, “Shitsel” should not be shunned because it lacks the glam and popularity of other TV shows. In fact, its average user rating on IMDb is 8.8/10, with one user calling it “a par above the best television and most cinema produced in Israel.” While “Shtisel”’s greatest appeal is obvious to those in the Jewish community, the situations and dilemmas are universally real, making “Shtisel” a TV show to be enjoyed by all.