SALEM – Veteran Israeli actor Dov Glickman’s portrayal of the stern, bearded, cholent-loving Rabbi Shulem Shtisel in the hit Netflix series “Shtisel” gets two thumbs up from the ultra-Orthodox, he says.
“Shtisel” portrays Haredi life in the Geula neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem. With its many plot twists centered around love and loss, Glickman says life there is like that in any other neighborhood, only it’s set against the backdrop of strict religious observance.
“Unbelievable, they loved it, you know,” Glickman said of the hit show from Tel Aviv via Zoom during a Lappin Foundation fundraiser for its Youth to Israel Adventure on Sunday, April 25, with 365 participants online.
“The feedback I got from the Orthodox world in Israel, they just loved it because it’s not National Geographic about Haredi,” Glickman said. “It’s just really about how are they as human beings.”
Glickman said some of the feedback can feel strange at times.
He described being at a Haredi wedding when a rabbi came up to him and observed: “You know, I must tell you, you are too tough with your child, too tough.”
“So, I told him, ‘But, do you see what troubles does he make me?’ and he says, ‘Yes, but you don’t have to be always right. You have to be smart, sometimes.’ So, then I told him — I thought we were joking together so I told him, ‘You know it’s a series, it’s a script.’”
“He says, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, but you don’t have always to say the lines they wrote you,’” chuckled Glickman.
The ultra-Orthodox love “Shtisel” more than any other production about religious Jews in Israel, even though they are not supposed to watch TV or have the internet, Glickman said.
“It’s very strange, they see it, you know. They watch it, I don’t know how, in phones sometimes, in kosher phones or kosher laptops or kosher TV, or whatever there are, they just love it,” Glickman said.
Glickman is no stranger to Israeli TV, stage and screen. He’s one of the country’s most celebrated actors whose fame has been propelled internationally because of the show’s popularity. He has also become a familiar face in many American Jewish homes as well.
“Dov, I know we have never met before this morning,” said Sarah Ovadia, Lappin’s development director, as she introduced Glickman, “yet I know I speak for everyone today and for everyone who has watched the show, we feel like we’ve known you forever.”
Glickman was interviewed by moderator David Brand, a businessman and philanthropist who serves on the board of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Glickman said the script’s attention to detail means nothing is left to chance, such as the time when one of Shulem’s sons unravels a phone cord wrapped around a chair leg for his domineering father.
“There’s no coincidence in the making of this show,” Glickman said. “Everything is thought-out and preplanned to the dot.”
The show’s writers and co-creators, Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, chart out what each character is eating down to how much bread and sardine is in his hand during a kitchen scene, Glickman said.
Glickman loves to improvise, but not on “Shtisel,” he said.
“Because this script is so perfect. It comes from two writers who know this world so well. The characters are already on the page. All we have to do is connect with them.”
The show’s toughest challenge as an actor is a physical, not a Talmudic one, Glickman said. He has to show up at 5 a.m. and have a beard glued to his face for an hour. He then has to put on warm clothes and a prosthetic belly in the heat of Jerusalem. They shot for 12-hour days last August.
“And during lunch break, try to eat without food getting in your fake beard,” Glickman said.
Glickman said the series made him realize the need for more tolerance between religious and secular Jews.
He recalled an occasion, before taking up his role as Shulem, when he was crossing the street, and a woman observed an Orthodox man on a bicycle.
The woman, who he didn’t know, told him: “I don’t like them, I’m sure you don’t like them, too.” And Glickman told her: “For to know if I like someone or not, I have to know him personally. I don’t know this man. As much as I know you personally, I don’t like you.”
Glickman said his next project, which was shot in Prague, is called “Oslo,” an HBO movie based on the Tony-winning Broadway play about the back-channel negotiations of the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The film premiers May 29.
While Glickman enjoyed the production and the role, he contracted the coronavirus during the filming. He arrived about a month after shooting the third season of “Shtisel,” where there was not a lot of social distancing on this set.
“No one got COVID, no one from the production [of “Shtisel”]. Then, I came to Prague. This was the mother of all capsules. You cannot imagine. They checked us twice a day.”
They couldn’t go out, everyone who came near them was tested, and four actors tested positive, Glickman said.
He said he received an antibody treatment and suffered a fever for one day, but the production was delayed two weeks.
Glickman said they are hoping for a fourth season of “Shtisel,” but he noted it’s a hard show to make and the cast didn’t think there would be a third season but for Netflix.
“I hope so much that it will come,” Glickman said. “I don’t know if it will come.” He said it would be a disaster if there wasn’t a fourth season because there are so many things to be sorted out.
“I want to know also what will be,” Glickman said.