Shtisel on Netflix, and Crimes I Committed for My Orthodox Jewish Neighbors

Hey guys! The Catholic All February prayer/devotion booklets are done! (These are companion books to the Compendium, with all the prayers, blessings, devotions, and Bible readings I recommend for the month all in one easy-to-use spot.) Check it out as a printable pdf here. Or as a paperback on Amazon here.

It's been forever and ever since I did a Netflix recommendation post but I just HAVE to recommend my latest find: Shtisel.

It's an Israeli TV drama that aired in 2013 and 2015-16 featuring a Haredi family living in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem. It's available with English subtitles on Netflix.

I definitely think it's worth watching.

The depiction of ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture is just fascinating. Since watching, I have found myself more mindful of blessing ALL my food, not just sit down meals. The matchmaking process is tempting. You meet, you decide if you want to get engaged, done. I need someone at our parish to get this up and running.

I love the little ways that modesty and chastity protections are built into the culture. Little things, like leaving the door open a crack, and always having a book with you on the bus. There's a scene towards the end of the first season that I just can't get out of my head. The main character, Akiva, faces temptation and, in the most charming and apologetic manner . . . RUNS AWAY FROM IT. It's amazing, and so different from anything else I've seen on TV.

I found the first season very romantic and well-written. The characters act according to their . . . character. There are creative and interesting dream sequences. I love that the storylines include babies, kids, old people, it just feels very authentic. (Aside from a couple social issue things that felt forced.)

There was a gap before the second season was made, and it was less of all of it for me. Less romantic, less well-written, less believable story-arcs, uncreative cameos by dead relatives rather than dream sequences, more loose ends. Still worth the time, I thought.

It wasn't renewed for a third season, and it ends without full resolution, but you can put together a conclusion. (If you're me, the conclusion you put together is certainly not the one that would have happened in an actual season 3, and involves an international flight.)

Overall, I really enjoyed it, and it made me think of our old neighbors, and the story of my life of crime/as a shabbat goy.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we were within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue of some sort, and many of our neighbors were observant Jews. (Note to Jewish readers, please forgive any religious terms or details I don't get quite right.)

Over our back wall lived a family with eight kids (we had three at the time).

One Saturday, our family was heading to a picnic at a college. We pulled out of our driveway and around the corner towards these neighbors’ house. It was a pretty long drive and I wanted the kids to sleep in the car, but had forgotten to adjust their carseats into the recline position, so I asked my husband to stop and he got out to fix them. When she saw us pulled over in front of their house, our neighbor came to the door and motioned for my husband to come and talk to her. When he came back to the car, he had a delivery notice, her driver’s licence, and the following information: They were planning a trip to the Holy Land and were supposed to be leaving the next day, she had recently given birth to their eighth baby, and had had to wait to apply for his passport until after his birth. They expedited it, but it hadn’t arrived the previous week as they were expecting. Instead, it had arrived via an overnight delivery service that morning. On the sabbath. So, despite the fact that their flight was on Sunday, and the delivery service office was not open on Sunday, she couldn’t sign for the delivery because writing two or more letters is forbidden on the sabbath. So the delivery guy had left with the passport.

Thus enlightened, instead of heading to our picnic, we drove to the delivery office, where I signed her name, picked up the passport, and brought it back to her. We made it to the picnic, better late than never, and they made it on their pilgrimage the next day. I don’t remember if the kids fell asleep in the car or not.

That was the beginning of my life of crime.

Just kidding. But it really did give me a lot to think about. On the one hand, seeing the risks she took for her family and the inconvenience she was willing to put on others, this felt like a clear example of what St. Peter argued against, when some early Christians insisted that gentiles should be made to follow the law of Moses. He asked, “Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”

But on the other hand, what a beautiful example of trust and the power of prayer. She followed the law, even when it seemed that it would mean a huge sacrifice. She couldn’t have called us on the phone on the sabbath, she couldn’t have walked over to our house carrying her driver’s licence or the delivery slip on the sabbath, she couldn’t have rung our doorbell or knocked on our door on the sabbath. But there we were, stopped outside her house. We got to be a part of her miracle. It all worked out in the end (and a lawyer friend assures me I didn’t even actually commit fraud since I had her permission to sign for her).

So, anyway, I am very grateful that Jesus, at the Last Supper, fulfilled the old covenant and established the new covenant. My salvation is not dependant on my observation of a weekly day of rest . . . but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of good to be found in those traditional observances.

I enjoyed getting to see some of them again, and some for the first time, in Shtisel. I think my fellow "observant" Catholics would enjoy it too. Have you seen it? What did you think?