An Israeli love story about an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Israel has become a hit on the video streaming service, Netflix and you can learn something about the community if you pay close attention. The story revolves around two ultra-Orthodox men, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel and his son Akiva and their endless quest to find love and happiness in their lives.
The elder Shtisel is the stoic representation of a strong rabbi, completely dedicated to his faith and family, while his son Akiva is caught between two worlds. He works as a teacher at his father’s Yeshiva but is a dreamer who tinkers with a different future, balking at the social norms that are expected of him but still maintaining his devotion to his religion.
Shulem is a widower, having a hard time coping with life without his beloved wife. Akiva is supposed to be finding a wife and starting his family but is in love with a two-time widow, frowned upon by his father who suspects something is not right with his son for even considering the notion.
The show casts a light on the community that like the secular community is plagued with family problems and social problems where their world is not as perfect as it may appear. Rabbi Shtisel finds out his mother bought a television and has been watching soap operas. Her life becomes so entrenched in television while others around her criticize her for bringing the television into her home.
Rabbi Shulem’s daughter Giti is married to a man, Lippe Weiss who travels overseas on business and considers leaving the Jewish faith, abandoning his family back in Israel. Back at home, Giti has to hide the fact that her husband has abandoned her and maintain a strong image to protect the reputation of her husband and her family. Young daughter Ruchami Weiss, however, will have none of it and acts like every teenage daughter in the world would, with anger and resentment. Ruchami like her mother puts on a show for her younger brothers and writes fake “letters from dad” to keep the family whole.
The show deals with life, love, religion and death from the eyes of an everyday Ultra Orthodox family.
Shtisel is by no means an expose into the Haredi world, nor does it paint any negative light on the community. The show simply tells a tale that life in any family, in any religion and in any part of the world for the ordinary people is no different that family life in the typical American or Israeli secular family. We all deal with the same problems in life.
While the best way to really understand the community is to say hello and engage in conversation, Shtisel might be a way for many who fear change to break the ice.