In Putting Ultra-Orthodox Jews on Screen, Comedy Works Better Than Tragedy

Since its debut in 2013, the Israeli television show Shtisel, which revolves around a ḥaredi family in Jerusalem, has become a surprise hit, even generating an audience outside the country. It has been joined by Autonomies, a series set in the future, where Israel has been divided into secular and religious states. Recent years have also seen a number of films about Ḥaredim. Taking stock of some of these works, Sarah Rindner notes their relative successes and failures:

The 2017 U.S. documentary One of Us follows the paths of three young ḥasidic individuals who left the insular community in which they were raised. With brooding music and a disturbing storyline, the filmmakers paint a picture of a repressive, backward society nestled within multicultural Brooklyn. One plot line concerns a young mother who tragically loses custody of her seven children after she leaves her community. . . . The stories are devastating, but we are never told of the existence of ex-Ḥasidim who have warmer relationships with their families. . . . The filmmakers themselves seem to have neither the interest nor the tools to paint a more layered portrait of this community.

A refreshing contrast is offered in Paula Eiselt’s 2018 documentary 93Queen. The film depicts the trials of an all-female ambulance corps in ḥaredi Brooklyn, focusing on its dynamic leader Ruchie Freier. With a lively and evocative soundtrack, itself the product of a ḥasidic alt-rocker Perl Wolfe, 93Queen deals with a less conservative subset of the ḥaredi community than does One of Us and a considerably less fraught situation. [Therefore] 93Queen is able to explore [its characters’] subtleties because it does not paint the community as a monolith—rather, it is a real landscape upon which human life, in all of its variety, can play out. [In other words], One of Us plays as tragedy while 93Queen is a comedy; plenty may be askew, but people live within imperfect reality. Tragedy moves us, but comedy is a lot more like real life for most people.

Israeli cinematic treatment of ḥasidic culture is often in the comic spirit. . . . Shtisel, for example, is hysterical. Who can forget the joy of the grandmother when she gets a television installed in her room in a ḥasidic nursing home: “Master of the Universe, today there is everything!”? The new series Autonomy follows a more tragic line. In the future, ḥaredi political power results in a theocratic police state that is perpetually at odds with, but also a shallow reflection of, its secular, free Jewish counterpart. The extremist rebbe [who leads the former] receives secret shipments of Thucydides, which presumably influences his warmongering. Meanwhile the sympathetic ḥaredi protagonist abandons his family to have an affair with a jazz musician on the secular side of the sociopolitical divide.

The result, writes Rindner, reduces both secular and religious societies to shallow stereotypes.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Israeli culture, Shtisel, Television, Ultra-Orthodox

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University