New Israeli TV series tells my story, but not all of it
I just saw the trailer of a new Israeli television show and I need to talk about it. It’s called “Chansi” and it’s about a religious girl from Brooklyn who blows up her life to make aliyah and “have a lot of sex with Israeli soldiers.” I’m sold.
The unlisted trailer made its internet debut nearly six months ago, stirring up buzz due to one of its cast members, Henry Winkler. The same Henry Winkler who played beloved Jewish figures like Dr. Lu Saperstein, father to Mona Lisa and Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation, and Barry Zuckerkorn in Arrested Development. (He is also the Fonz, a character I won’t even pretend to know). Winkler’s IMDb page is beyond impressive, which is perhaps why this project choice seems so odd.
This an Israeli-American hybrid show, starring its creator Aleeza Chanowitz, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film School. And Henry Winkler is in it, cast as the titular character’s father.
The trailer begins by introducing Chansi, sat atop a tank in all white, turning to kiss one and then another Israeli soldier. A third soldier lifts her off the tank, an M16 slung across his chest. She kisses him. Then she kisses another soldier. And another. As the soldiers wave goodbye from the tank, an Israeli flag blowing in the wind behind them, Chansi opens her eyes. We’re transported out of her fantasy and into a very different reality.
We learn that Chansi had the perfect shidduch. She had a flourishing future, and then she declares that she is leaving all of that to make aliyah. The American Jews in her life are horrified, but they can’t stop her. As the trailer purports, “She came for the Zionism, and stayed for the Zionists.”
What commences is sexually charged chaos as Chansi flirts with any man who has a uniform as only a new olah can.
When I watched this minute and a half clip for the first time, I was shocked. So I watched it again. And again. And here I am writing about it which just gives me an excuse to rewatch the trailer again and again and again.
What stunned me was that I saw myself in Chansi. Here is this ballsy American girl who essentially says, “Yallah, I’m moving to Israel,” and then does it. I did that. But the Chansi in the trailer didn’t remind me of the me who made aliyah. She reminded me of a younger version of myself, perhaps 16 or 19, who still saw wonder and exoticized Israel – and, let’s face it, Israeli soldiers.
I see Chansi as I see my teenage self, naive and dazzled by a new land and dark-haired men with accents. But what I can’t ignore is how nostalgic I feel for this girl, unaware of what lies ahead in her future as an Israeli.
Back in the opening scene, I can’t just see my teen self in this American Jewish girl flanked by soldiers. That’s because I am Chansi and I am the soldiers.
I made aliyah three years ago, after I zipped through my Bachelor’s just in time to avoid graduating on Zoom. But I didn’t come on a whim – I knew that I would make aliyah since I was Israeli-soldiers-are-dreamy-years-old. What I didn’t know when I saw Israel through Chansi-colored lenses is that the olive green uniform loses its sex appeal when you’re the one wearing it.
In my experience, Israel and Israelis are demystified when you join them in the trenches. I see the guys on the tank with Chansi and I see boys whose mothers still fold their laundry for them. And their guns? What used to be a symbol of strength and daring now makes me shutter at the five weeks of basic training during which I nearly collapsed lugging around an em-shesh-esrei (M16). I see these boys in a tank, definitely in the desert, and I can almost witness my Chansi self unravel with the woes of the army.
Coming to Israel as a fresh-faced Chansi is as exciting as it is magical. It’s a special feeling to have a place that seems limitless until you learn the limits. I visited Israel five or so times before I became Israeli. Each time a layer of enchantment was peeled back. The last time I came to Israel as a visitor, the fantasy finally shattered.
I was studying abroad in Tel Aviv, interning part time at a startup. There, I was exposed to Americans who despite making the aliyah plunge still maintained their idyllic Israel. They lived in the Tel Aviv bubble of Anglo-olim, no need to speak Hebrew or venture out of what is fondly referred to in Israel as the “State of Tel Aviv”. Being with those Americans was like looking into a mirror at my future self. I didn’t like what I saw. So I dropped the mirror and with it went my illusion of Israel.
Now when I look in the mirror I see a woman who once was Chansi, then became a soldier, and chose to rejoin the Tel Aviv bubble on her own terms, after she faced the reality of Israel and Israelis.
At the end of the trailer, Chansi screams in excitement on a bus, only to be told by the bus driver that she can’t stand there. That’s my Israel – fantasy and reality juxtaposed as a bus driver yells at me.
From just a peek, I am rapt in anticipation of this delusionally grounded show. I came for Henry Winkler, but I stayed for Chansi and the soldiers.