Calling all ‘Shtisel’ fans: Cast of Netflix hit about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family to visit Scarsdale

The cast of Netflix series “Shtisel”

Those who admire — or binge watched — the award-winning “Shtisel” series, available on Netflix, won’t want to miss this.

Members of the “Shtisel” cast and writing team will unpack the popular Israeli series in a special event at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. Cast members and co-creators will be present for an evening of discussion, selected clips and a behind-the-scenes look at creating the drama. 

“Shtisel” became a surprise hit when it was released on Netflix in December 2018 and has enjoyed international fame since. The series, which follows a traditional Orthodox Jewish family living in Geula, a neighborhood in Jerusalem, premiered in 2013 and has completed two 12-episode seasons as of 2019. Writer Yehonatan Indursky announced in May the series would be renewed for a third season.

The show has been recognized for its efforts to authentically portray Orthodox Judaism, a lifestyle that has not often been explored in media due to its limited access. The show is set in a neighborhood that follows strict Haredi customs, including no access to the internet. The story follows the Shtisel family patriarch and widower, Shulem Shtisel (Dov Glickman) and the members of his family as they struggle to adhere to the expectations around them. Their receptiveness to a more secular lifestyle appears in contrast to their neighbors in Mea She’arim, a section of Jerusalem known for its religious extremism.

Akiva (Michael Aloni), Shtisel’s son, struggles against his father’s expectations as he wrestles with his inner affinities for art and romanticism, both not considered acceptable pursuits for a young Haredi man. Meanwhile, Shtisel’s daughter, Giti Weiss (Neta Riskin) struggles to keep her family together in the face of her husband’s infidelity and work-related abandonment.

In its first two seasons, the show has garnered multiple Ophirs, the Israeli Emmys, for Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Directing and Best Script in a drama series. Its recreation of the area in which it’s set and the lives and traditions of the people involved have been accomplished through painstaking means, according to the writers, and some of the show’s intrigue has been attributed to the curiosity of people wanting to pull back the curtain of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Westchester Reform Temple’s Rabbi Jonathan Blake, cast as the moderator for the behind-the-scenes event, said part of the appeal is that the show addresses some very universal human themes.

“I think one of the reasons the show is successful is because of all of this stuff that you can relate to,” said Blake. “Even if you don't know anything about the world that is being portrayed on screen, there are universal human considerations that make this show compelling. Like the pull of family versus individuality [and] how much you’re able to be your own person versus a member of your family — how much are we driven to follow the rules and regulations of the tribe and how much are we permitted to be creative, imaginative, passionate for the things that matter to us as individuals?”

Blake said he intends as the host annd moderator for the “Shtisel” discussion not only to draw out conversation about the behind-the-scenes of the show, but give those attending the event a window into the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and how that has been recreated on screen. None of the actors is ultra-Orthodox and the Haredi communities that do exist are generally not welcoming to outsiders.

“You don’t have anyone from outside those communities who has intimate access to that world,” said Blake. “So I would love to learn and have the congregation learn how the actors prepared to inhabit these characters ... I’m curious how much they’re drawing based on universal experiences outside of Orthodoxy.”

Another commonly recognized and unique component of the show Blake plans to explore is language. Though the actors are Israeli and speak Hewbrew, the type of Herbew used in the show and its dialectic is very specific to the community depicted, according to Blake. Likewise, a lot of the dialogue happens in Yiddish, which is very different from Hebrew though written with the same characters.

“I would love to learn more about how different audiences are reacting to the show, and could imagine that there would be different reactions among the three audiences,” said Blake. “There’s the Israeli secular audience, there's the American Jewish audience, there's the non-Jewish audience. And then I think the most provocative question could be ‘What have you heard about how Jews who come from that community are responding to the show?’”

Similar events featuring the “Shtisel” cast have sold out rapidly in the New York area, and the addition of this one was made possible by Jewish Week Media and UJA- Federation of New York. WRT’s event will feature Neta Riskin, who plays Giti Weiss; Glickman, who plays Shulem Shtisel; Ayelet Zurer who plays Akiva’s love interest on the show and writer and co-director Ori Elon.

Rabbi Blake said he believes anyone who's ever been a child, a parent, a lover, a student, a worker can identify with the themes of the show.

“Even if you've never set foot in a synagogue before, even if you have no connection to the Jewish people, these are universal themes,” he said. “I'm hoping to create moments of emotional and intellectual connection between what happens on screen and what the people in the audience live and feel every day of their life.”

 Event 411
 “Shtisel”: Behind the scenes of the unorthodox Orthodox drama
 Tuesday, Sept. 10
 7 p.m., doors open at 5:30 p.m.
 Westchester Reform Temple
 255 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale
 $50 general admission, $118 preferred seating, $200 VIP  (limited)

 RSVP: ujafedny.org/event/vies/shtisel-westchester

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