Shmulik and Mushkie go to Kathmandu

by Brian on June 8, 2012

in Jewish Holidays and Culture,Just For Fun

Shmulik and Mushkie in top left and bottom right. Chezkie and Chani in the other squares. What a resemblance! (From

Shmulik and Mushkie are not the kind of protagonists you usually see on Israeli television. The newly married Chabad couple are all set to begin their shlichut (emissary period) in Brussels when a last minute change of plans lands them in Kathmandu, just days before Passover, with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a mass Seder for the many Israelis who trek through Nepal on their way to the Himalayas.

That’s the premise for a new TV series on Israel’s Channel 2 called, appropriately, Kathmandu. And it’s addicting – not just because our family spent the Seder in Kathmandu last year. The relationship between Shmulik and Mushkie, despite numerous third world challenges, cross-cultural clashes andkashrut calamities, is just plain…sweet. This is not your standard religious-Jews-as-comic-relief faire to which most Israeli TV shows descend.

The show’s primary plot line depicts Shmulik and Mushkie as being the first Chabad couple in Kathmandu, although the program is clearly fictional: Rabbi Chezky and Chani Lifshitz have been there for years already. Is the show modeled on Kathmandu’s real Chabad couple? Certainly in one way: the two couples look remarkably similar (see the picture above).

While a drama, Kathmandu also goes for laughs: Shmulik getting thrown in jail for breaking into his Chabad House is a bit silly, but it does give Mushkie the opportunity to say to the police inspector, who presumably has never seen a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jews in black hat and wig, “do we look like we’re crazy?”

Kathmandu is funded in part by the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund and the Avi Chai Foundation, both of which are devoted to pluralistic Jewish understanding; hence, the portrayal of Shmulik and Mushkie is, at least to this non-Chabadnik’s eye, fairly accurate and certainly compassionate. Yechiel Fleishman, a real Lubavitcher, serves as an advisor to the show’s creators.

I always get a kick out of seeing totally secular actors playing religious types (you can see what Mushkie looks like out of her wig in this video interview; she looks like she was once a model!) To prepare for filming, the actors reportedly visited Kfar Chabad many times to learnniggunim, Chabad slang and frum customs (although in the opening scene, Mushkie’s sister’s skirt was above the knee, a definite no-no for any good Chabad family).

There’s lots more to the show than just the Chabad couple. There are a few stereotyped Israeli backpackers: the Shanti new ager, the stoned trekker, the Israeli who doesn’t speak Hebrew any more (“I love the language,” he quips. “I just don’t always love the people who speak it”), and the woman who is seeking her sister who has gone missing in the mountains.

I’m hoping that the characters develop beyond caricatures as the show goes on, but in the meantime, the authentic backgrounds (the crew spent two months in Nepal filming) are enough to bring back fond personal memories. I suspect the same will be true for many young Israelis.

For the non-backpacking set, check out Kathmandu anyway. It’s no Srugim or B’Tipul (the original version of HBO’s In Treatment), but it’s a definite cut above Ramzor and – forgive me for even using this in the same sentence – Ach HaGadol, the Israeli Big Brother.

Reshet, the network behind the show, is putting the complete episodes on YouTube, so you don’t even have to have a TV. There are Hebrew subtitles, but none in English, though.

Shmulik and Mushkie went to Kathmandu originally on the Israelity blog.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Myriam SHEFFER June 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm


2 Brian June 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

It already is on Channel 2. Thursday nights.

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