It’s more than halfway through winter, and chilly winds and freezing temperatures will be with us for at least another month. At night, the large screen TV beckons. These days though, you have the option to watch more than the latest news, sports, or American movies. A group of Israeli TV series has arrived in America, and most are quite good. Here’s one writer’s look at the top five on American TV (prepare for subtitles):
A look at the complex relationships within the ultra-Orthodox Shtisel family, set in the Geula section of Jerusalem. The show focuses on the Reb Shulem Shtisel, who heads a yeshiva, and his complicated relationships with his family and friends. As it lifts the veil behind the cloistered religious community, the Shtisel family reveals a complicated life not unlike the world of secular Jewry: controlling parents, infidelity, mortality, love and faith.
A breakthrough set of stories that go behind the political and religious issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. The series succeeds because it focuses on the human side of the conflict, and shows the impact the struggle has had on each side. “Fauda” means “chaos” in Arabic, and that accurately describes the Mista’aravim, or Israeli special forces, who speak Arabic and blend into Arab villages and cities as they seek to eliminate terror groups.
“Srugim” (Amazon Prime)
This poignant show follows a group of five modern Orthodox single Israelis who seek relationships in Jerusalem. Like “Shtisel,” it reveals the beauty and simplicity of prayer, Shabbat, and friendship. But religion serves just as a backdrop, not the main focus. Instead, we learn how the five friends unite as they struggle with loneliness, disappointment, broken relationships, and love.
“Prisoners of War” (Hulu)
Those who glorify war most likely have never been in combat, and “Prisoners of War” tells the story of violence that’s part of a larger issue deeply imbedded in Israeli culture. Even before it aired on Israeli TV, “Prisoners of War” (“Hatufim” in Hebrew) was purchased by Showtime, which based “Homeland” on the concept. In “Prisoners of War,” we follow three Israeli men who were captured and held in Lebanon for 17 years by Islamic militants. After two are released (and the third is returned in a coffin), the anxiety begins. While it only ran for two years, the brilliant writing, riveting acting, and examination of how war impacts Israeli society will stay with you long after you finish all of the episodes.
“Mossad 101” (Netflix)
Exaggerated and tinged with soap opera characters, “Mossad 101” still succeeds because it’s a microcosm of Israeli life. As we follow more than a dozen trainees, there’s plenty of imperfection that pierces the myth that one of the world’s most feared intelligence agencies can do no wrong – either in planning or conducting operations. And like many other Israeli TV shows, it doesn’t shy away from the corruption and nepotism that is deeply rooted in Israeli society.