Sheldon Kirshner

Fire Dance

Rama Burshtein-Shai is back for an encore.

Her last major production, Fill the Void, was a finely-crafted feature film about haredi Jews in Jerusalem. Fire Dance, an eight-part TV series, covers much of the same social and religious ground, but it is set in Tiberias.

It will be screened online by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation from March 20 to April 2.

The lead characters, shaped by their conservative and insular community, are a young single woman and a married man with children.

Feige (Mia Ivrin), 18, works in Rabbi Nathan’s garment workshop and helps his wife with household chores. She has a crush on Nathan (Yehuda Levi), a quiet, charismatic person. Feige knows  her passion is completely misplaced and inappropriate, but she cannot suppress it.

Realizing he is unattainable, she tries to commit suicide. Nathan saves Feige in the nick of time and extracts a promise from her that she will not try to kill herself.

Feige’s mother, a single mom, is saddened and upset by her condition. Indeed, Feigi is driving her crazy.

Feige’s romantic obsession with Nathan is one of the sub-themes in Fire Dance. The other theme concerns Nathan’s future role in his hassidic sect following his father death.

Nathan appears to be the natural successor. He is older than his brother, Srulik, and seems wiser. But Srulik is convinced he is the better man for the job. The brothers have an intense conversation during which they vent their ambivalent feelings about each other. When Srulik confesses he could not survive Nathan’s accession as grand rebbe, Nathan seems to draws back from his ambition.

In the meantime, trouble is brewing elsewhere in this tight-knit community. A woman named Giti wants a divorce from her husband, who refuses to grant one, either in this world or the next one, as he acidly says. Crushed by his recalcitrance, she begins a hunger strike. Feige, Giti’s best friend, persuades Nathan to intervene and resolve this tricky issue. During Nathan’s heart-to-heart talk with Giti, she admits her deficiencies.

As this drama unfolds, Feige’s mother tells her she has hired a matchmaker to find her a suitable husband. Feige, still in love with Nathan, dismisses her efforts, prompting a rant from her mother.

In a stylized and riveting scene, Nathan and Srulik discuss the succession again, this time in the presence of the sect’s followers. They exchange few words, but they instinctively understand each other. The implicit message they convey is understood by everyone in the crowd.

Judging by the first two episodes, Fire Dance is a compelling drama, bolstered by a credible script, superior performances and deft cinematography.

This production takes a viewer into an ultra-pious and reclusive community and humanizes it. While Fire Dance falls somewhat short of the caliber of Shtisel, another Israeli drama about haredim, it is nonetheless artistically accomplished and worthy of attention.


About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,