“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” – Elie Wiesel
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I have yet to hear of anyone in my circle of friends who hasn’t watched at least a few episodes of Shtisel, the Israeli international phenomenal television drama series about a fictional Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) family living in Geula, Jerusalem.
Created and written by Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, the drama is an international hit. Indursky, before his leap into film and the secular world, was born in Jerusalem, to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family and studied at the ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Ponevezh in Bnei Brak, Israel, giving him an insight into a world very few of us are cognizant of.
Pronounce it whatever way you want, Shtisel more than ever has come positively into our lives at this time of COVID-19, due to its universal themes, of friendship, specifically romantic and family longing.
For many of us during the past 12 months here in Canada, we have been devoid of familiar contact, of hugging our children, our grandchildren or just being so close to them that we can feel their very essence right next to us. Contact with our friends has resulted in the occasional phone call – forget about Zoom – leading to nothing relevant to say to each other.
Shtisel has sparked our familiarity with how it was. To speak, to smile again, to laugh, to create, to tease. Online Shtisel social groups have sprung up in numerous locations. Shtisel has overwhelmed us with its generosity of allowing us to appreciate, whatever religious or racial group you may identify yourself with, to accept there isn’t much difference between us. And it has made us proud of being Jewish.
Before the commencement of Shtisel, many of Shtisel’s cast had very little contact with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. As Neta Riskin, who plays Giti Weiss, said in an interview, in Israel we do not mix, it is similar to oil and water. I dare say that is also predominant amongst many of us non-Israeli secular Jews as well.
My introduction to Shtisel commenced in the middle of March 2021. Since then, I have now watched 31 of the 33 episodes. My regular sleeping habits have led to dire consequences. Nevertheless, bravely I shall approach the final two episodes knowing no one has dared to tell me, under the threat of showing off my new-found Shtisel Yiddish demeaning sayings, how it all ends.