New TV Show Attempts to Bridge the Religious Secular Divide

by Brian on July 31, 2008

in Jewish Holidays and Culture

A new TV show that debuted earlier this month on the Israeli satellite company YES is the talk of the town across certain sectors of southern Jerusalem. “Srugim” (in English: “knitted kippas”) is an extraordinarily accurate depiction of the religious singles scene in Jerusalem.

Set in our own neighborhood (Katamon and the German Colony in particular), the show chronicles the trials and tribulations of trying to find one’s place in the grueling “swamp” that represents the modern Orthodox world in Jerusalem.

Though the show is about Israel singles, Anglos in the city will easily recognize their own lives, between coffee dates at local cafes, shul hopping and the ubiquitous plastic bags containing quiches, humus and drinks that singles carry around on Shabbat as they head to a group meal with other like minded young people.

Srugim is peppered with location shots of local hangouts. And the dumpy apartments with their tiny kitchens will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who’s ever been single in Jerusalem.

The show has caught on not just with religious residents of the capital. The Muqata blog reports that the series has received rave reviews from publications across the religious/secular divide including Achbar Ha’ir, Maariv, NRG, and others.

That’s because the acting and writing is uniformly excellent. While the show is essentially a soap opera, it’s certainly not as trashy as hop in and out of bed programs such as the infamous Ramat Aviv Gimel. Imagine Melrose Place…with yarmulkes.

Director Laizey Shapiro has gone to great lengths to make sure even the finest details are reliable. “Every time religious people are presented on the screen, the kippa is in the wrong angle or the text doesn’t make sense,” Shapira told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. All the more important given that all of the actors in the show are secular.

Shapira is a 32-year-old religious bachelor. He attended the Ma’ale School of Television, Film and the Arts, the only religious film program in the country. The series was originally titled “Sex and the Holy City” because, as Shapira says, “I couldn’t ignore the sex issue because I would be ignoring reality. (Nevertheless) there is something pretty special in the fact that you can see such things in a series on religious people.”

So far the show has focused more on dates than sex. Srugim revolves around five main characters. Hodaya and Yifat are roommates. Yifat has a crush on Nati, the cute 30-something but immature doctor who keeps standing her up. Amir likes Re’ut but she wants to keep it as just friends. Hodaya is going out with a non-religious professor at Hebrew University.

Some of the best situations concern the clash between tradition and modernity. In perhaps the show’s most infamous scene to date, Hodaya brings a date home after midnight. He’s drunk and he lives out of the city, so he sleeps in her room (we assume nothing else happened).

In the morning when he crawls out of bed (to Yifat’s horror – “we have rules here, Hodaya”), he asks the roommates if they have a pair of tefillin. They don’t but they knock on the door of their next-door neighbor, a heavily accented American woman who offers her tefillin to him. Hodaya’s date rejects the offer dismissively. He’s not about to use a “Reform lesbian’s tefillin,” he huffs, his religious sleep over hypocrisy notwithstanding.

Nati is asked to join a minha minyan at the hospital where he works. He bristles at the request – he’d prefer to spend his free time napping. However, when he notices that the kashrut license for the lobby sandwich vendor’s kiosk is suspicious, he’s not so meek. He reports it to the Rabbinate, which quickly results in the kiosk proprietor’s sacking.

Yifat meets a cute guy with a kippa and asks him out. He tells her he’s not for her – he’s not religious. “Do you keep Shabbat,” she asks. “Yes,” he responds. “Do you keep kashrut?” Yes. “So how are you not religious?” “In ways you wouldn’t like.” As he’s leaving, he tries to give Yifat a peck on the cheek. She recoils. “Now you get it,” he says.

Perhaps the most conflicted of the bunch is Hodaya who starts dating a non-religious professor. She can’t bring herself to tell him she’s religious. He asks her out to a movie on Friday night. “Shabbat?” she asks, then adds hastily that she has “other plans,” not that she doesn’t go to movies on Friday night. In a later scene, her beau cooks her up a plate of his special spaghetti with meatballs. He sprinkles cheese on top and urges her to try it. Will she eat it or not? We found ourselves screaming at the screen – “don’t do it, Hodaya!” She takes a tiny bite and promptly runs to the bathroom to retch.

Director Shapira was asked in his Yediot interview about his own personal dating do’s and don’ts as a religious single. He responds honestly. “With us everything is much more dissolvable in terms of keeping a distance. It also looks very ridiculous – even though this is Jewish law. People are beginning to cut corners. Many more people are saying out loud that they cannot go out with a girl and not touch her. I’m not talking about sex, although there are those who go there as well. Several years ago I would say this is absolutely impossible, but things change.”

If you missed an episode, you’re not in Israel or you don’t have YES, you can catch Srugim online: (the show is in Hebrew, no English subtitles).

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