Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Shtisel and Reverence: The Best of the Best

I absolutely loved "Ted Lasso" and "The Last Dance" captured my imagination. They should, both speak to Sports and Spirituality with proficiency. "Shtisel" however is different. For one, it has nothing to do with sports. It's set in Jerusalem and uses English subtitles to translate from Hebrew. Still, Shtisel is the show I have enjoyed the most during the COVID era. 

Season 1. I miss Elisheva so much...

While many people are familiar with "Unorthodox," Shtisel is an Israeli television drama series about a fictional Haredi Jewish (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) family living in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem. The show, which was first released in 2013 follows the life of Shulem Shtisel —the strong-willed patriarch and his five grown children. Like manna from heaven the third season will be released  on March 25!  

Why Shtisel? How could it possibly speak to a Catholic American? to a woman who loves sports? And why write about it on a Sports and Spirituality blog? Here are but a few thoughts. 

Peter Beinart of The Atlatntic writes, "Shtisel’s themes—the bonds of family, the pursuit of love, and the relationship between the living and the dead—are universal, its setting, the ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem, is to most Jews (let alone non-Jews) mysterious. Shtisel re-creates it obsessively. One of the show’s creators, Yehonatan Indursky, grew up haredi in Jerusalem, and Shtisel employs mashgiachs (supervisors) to ensure that every detail is correct." 

Still struggling to accept Libby

Even before immersing myself into the Shtisel family—which like Ted Lasso, I often forgot isn't real—learning about Judaism in its many expressions has deepened my understanding of Christianity. As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and belief in Him, so too has my appreciation for the tradition in which He was raised. 

Father Jim Martin, SJ wrote that traveling to the Holy Land is reading "the fifth Gospel." Thus, it was with that perspective in mind that brought me to Israel for a full month in the summer of 2017. To see what Jesus saw, to walk where He did, to visit his birthplace and his burial deepened my faith and my love for a shared heritage of belief. I now pray "and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" with a deeper understanding of what that means!

But Shtisel isn't set in the past, the characters live, move and have their being in the City as it is today: ancient and modern, walled and open, diverse and dynamic. My travels to Jerusalem brought me to the very neighborhood where the Shtisel family resides. Adrian, my group leader loved the Geula neighborhood. She taught us about this community and equipped me with eyes to see their way in the world. It was indeed mysterious, unique, singular and beautiful. I understand why it is the perfect setting for this program.

to know Kive is to love Kive

I believe the program Unorthodox raises questions that are far different than the ones that spawn from Shtisel. Many a viewer of Unorthodox is left with the sense that orthodoxy is extremism and/or that the two are synonymous. And in today's world extremism is viewed as something we must avoid all all costs. I don't think it's that simple. One program and one perspective, though valuable and affective doesn't make anyone an expert on a way of living, a tradition that has been followed, a faith that is practiced.

Unpacking the Immense Popularity of Shtisel captures what Shtisel does offer. Beinart writes, "Shtisel’s combination of radical particularity and radical universality lies at the core of its appeal. At Temple Emanu-El, Aloni quoted a fan who told him, “I’m a Norwegian Christian, and watching Shtisel makes me long for my childhood in Geula.”

Through Shtisel, the viewer is invited to both appreciate and question the practices, attitudes, traditions, norms, expectations of this ultra orthodox community. I found this to be a wonderful exercise by which to compare and contrast my own faith and its  culture. While some things stretched and challenged me, I also felt a tender appreciation and sense of wonder.  I still do.

And so while we are at it, I would like to conclude with a short video REVERENCE from the Jewish Film Institute. While Shtisel tells the story of a family that nominally assimilated today's world, in Reverence, we are brought to understand the meaning of newfangled kippahs (the Hebrew word for skull cap) branded with pop culture icons and sports logos is dissected. It is a given for viewing in Sports and Spirituality. And if Kive wears a Giants kippah in Season 3, I'll show Shtisel too... ENJOY!

I'd be happy to talk about Shtisel on my podcast @FaithFondue every week. But you can here it as part of the Spiritual Stew here!

Photo Credits
Season 1
Season 2
Akiva aka Kive

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