It’s been more than four years since “Shtisel” released a new episode, much to the chagrin of its fans. But that is about to change.
Just a few weeks ago, “Shtisel” star Shira Haas shared a photo of herself on Facebook peeking out from behind a script labeled “Shtisel Season 3.” That was followed by YES studios, which produces “Shtisel,” posting other images of cast members with scripts or in costumes.
Right now, it’s unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect production, but what does seem certain is that new episodes are on their way.
“Shtisel,” an Israeli drama, has taken ahold of viewers around the world, particularly since it became available for streaming on Netflix since the end of 2018. The show follows the members of the fictional Shtisel family as they deal with love, loss, and other universal themes. The patriarch of the Shtisel clan is Rabbi Shulem Shtisel (Dov Glickman), whose wife dies about a year before the start of the show. He lives with his youngest son, Akiva (Michael Aloni), who works as a teacher while nursing artistic aspirations and looking for love. Other relatives are a part of the show as well, particularly Shulem’s daughter, Giti (Neta Riskin), who struggles to make ends’ meet after her husband Lippe leaves her and her children.
All this happens against a setting that is unusual for a drama. “Shtisel” takes place in Geula, a Haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. The men wear suits and peyos; the women long skirts and wigs. But for the most part, Geula and ultra-Orthodoxy are the backdrop to the characters’ lives. They don’t struggle with or against their faith and community. Rather, the drama is driven by relationships.
For many fans, that’s what makes the show so special.
And signs of a third season are welcome news.
Inger Mobley, of downtown D.C., is one of those fans. She fell in love with the show for its characters, who have kept her company in quarantine. “I’m still stuck at home, and it made me feel like I had a place to escape,” said Mobley, who has now watched it twice.
The World of ‘Shtisel’
Rabbi Eli Yoggev, of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, was impressed by how the show represents the ultra-Orthodox community.
“‘Shtisel’ is a positive depiction of the Orthodox world I know,” he said.
He grew up in a similar community and appreciates the show’s hopeful portrayal of it. The show’s popularity initially piqued his interest, but what drew Yoggev to binge all 24 episodes within three days was its sincerity.
“I joined [that community] of my own volition and the show gives a homey feeling,” he said. “It’s normal people with feelings and ups and downs.” While problems exist in the Orthodox world as they do in any other community, “there’s a certain majestic charm of the [Orthodox] community, which people often don’t know because of how they’re depicted in the news. But choosing that community on my own, I feel like that beauty is best depicted in ‘Shtisel.’”
“There are issues, but I just feel like ‘Shtisel’ did a good job in balancing out to some extent the view that is often adopted in broader culture of it as a foreign, weird, and standoffish community,” Yoggev continued.
Yoggev said he thought the show could help people understand the Haredi community more.
“No. 1, it can help people who watch the news and help them in terms of being able to see the other in a positive light and offer love to them,” said Yoggev. Secondly, “it might open up the option to connect to that community, that you can find good there.”
Mendy Schoenes, a Hasidic Jew in Baltimore, shares this perspective. Schoenes appreciates “Shtisel” for the overall storyline design, the writers, and the fact that “the characters have struggles, they don’t live in a mansion.” He was particularly moved by the show’s idea of finding one’s way in life, and relates to it.
Josh Glancy, writing for The JC in London, said that “Shtisel” changed his own idea of the Haredi community. “‘Shtisel’ is the first time I’ve seen the Charedi community depicted as fully-rounded people. … There is caustic wit and marital strife, wine and song and lashings of fragrant kugel. They fall in and out of love, smoke like hard-bitten newspaper hacks, scheme and fight and cry and laugh just like the rest of us.”
A Community of Fans
Online, “Shtisel” fan groups have thousands of members. “Shtisel” – Let’s Talk About It, a group on Facebook, has more than 22,000 members, who post questions, comments, and news about the show.
In Greenbelt, Mishkan Torah Synagogue had been offering an opportunity for fans to gather in person. The synagogue held gatherings for local “Shtisel” fans to geek out and share bagels and good times, until quarantine put a halt to that.
Rabbi Saul Oresky of Mishkan Torah is a fan of the show himself. He particularly appreciates the redemptive arc of the character Lippe. “It showed people in this community to be really, truly fleshed-out real people with a full range of human emotions, which is not sometimes how the rest of the Jewish world even sees those communities. They either idealize them or treat them as different creatures entirely,” said Oresky.
The complex characterizations provide context to empathize and understand the Orthodox community. Even more, they are simply “more fair to the people involved,” said Oresky. For example, he thought “Shtisel” allowed him to explore the dynamic nature of humans. It presents Orthodox people as capable of making mistakes, but also deserving of love.
For Mobley, the romance of “Shtisel” is what draws her in, particularly Akiva’s relationship with an older widow named Elisheva. The feelings they have for each other are not expressed through body language, but rather through a rich palette of facial emotions.
But, to Mobley, “Shtisel” is more than that.
When the characters were heartbroken, she was heartbroken. When a certain character didn’t see how devoted another was, it reminded her of her own experiences with stifled affections.
In a similar way to how Akiva and Elisheva loved each other, but were restricted in how they expressed it, Mobley’s mother never told her she loved her. She died without having ever said the words. Still, Mobley knew her mother loved her. She felt it through her mom’s actions. “Even if you can’t show affection outwardly, it kind of comes across anyway. I come from a family like that so it’s what I’m used to. I understand there’s still concern and love, it’s just not expressed.”
In his piece for the JC, Glancy explains how the show succeeds in being relatable to its viewers.
“Finally,” he writes, “someone has taken me into this strange, confusing world, and shown it to be just as complex and human as my own.”