It’s been awhile since I’ve truly been so enthralled and captivated by a TV show. The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is so addictive not only because of the flawless beautiful cinematography of Jerusalem’s stone courtyards and vast open desert fields, but mostly because of the historical timestamps the show weaves us through, giving us a historic lens from the time period of rationing during the Ottoman Empire to the period of British rule with the rebel factions of Hagana and Haetzel.
The story reminds me of the Irish immigrant family to New York chronicled in the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This story is also the tale of a few generations of immigrant women through life cycle milestones, and likewise has specifically women protagonists. The women in this family are hardworking and sacrifice everything for their families even while they long for the elusive universal desire of love from their partners.
The Ermoza family, who are originally Spanish, speak Ladino, English, Arabic, and Hebrew, showcasing the mix of ethnicities and cultures in the area known as Palestine. Gavriel, a successful merchant, is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, and like his father goes to Beirut and stays in a brothel during his business travels, ensuring that what’s far away and hidden won’t bring any shame on the family.
A common theme in the story is family honor and shame. The highest value and virtue is an honorable name which is acquired mainly through a woman’s purity; it’s the woman’s task to save herself for marriage and be a trustworthy, reputable, and worthy wife. When Gavriel consummates his marriage he even says a blessing to sanctify the marriage.
Rosa, Gavriel’s wife, compares herself to Leah, the biblical wife of Yaakov, who is married to a man who loves a different woman. Gavriel was in love with a girl from a Yiddish speaking family named Rochel, and even years later he never forgets her. His second daughter even bears her namesake as Rachelika. Rosa was a poor cleaning lady married off to Gavriel and her mother in law won’t let her forget about how fortunate she is that she married into a well off reputable family.
Another strong theme in the storyline is superstitions and mysticisms in which the matriarch of the family, Mercada, firmly believes. It was she who forced the marriage of her son and Rosa after a dream with her deceased husband. She has a witch named Jilda with whom she regularly is in contact to hear predictions about the future, and to find out if her grandchildren will be the preferred male gender.
Luna, the daughter of Gavriel, is a social butterfly who has a fondness for clothes, fashion, and sneaking out her bedroom window to spend time with boyfriends. She manipulatively gets herself kicked out of an international British school staffed by nuns to leave the academic world she loathes and cunningly acquires a job where she excels as a women’s clothing salesgirl.
The backdrop of the story is a country marred by constant conflict speckled with erratic Arab uprisings, British officers falling in love with Jewish girls, and bitter discord among Jewish factions who will unabashedly resort to terror. Through it all, the Ermoza family invariably sacrifices and surrenders in the name of honor, integrity, and being true to their stalwart Jewish Spanish roots. The Ermoza chronicles are a timeless family saga that magnificently permeates through past, present, and future generations.