By Jeffrey B. Remz
On the face of it, the popularity of Srugim was not exactly expected. After all, how many folks would be interested in following the lives of modern Orthodox, singles approaching 30, in the “Katamon swamp” in Jerusalem? Does anyone really care about religious observance, having difficulties with it, dealing with non-religious people, divorce, friendships and the ever-enveloping search for The One (well, okay, the last one, I think that would draw a crowd).
But the fact is the Israeli TV show is now in its third and supposedly final season in Israel and extremely popular. (And The Boston Jewish Film Festival is quite happy to be showing the first three episodes this coming Monday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at West Newton Cinema. One of the stars, Amos Tamam, who plays a sweet, not overly exciting seminary teacher Amir, will be on hand. Reports have it that he’s quite engaging in the flesh in talking about the show.)
The show also has attracted an audience on these shores. The Jewish Channel shows the series here, and screenings such as ours are happening around the U.S. and Canada.
Why do people care about Yifat, the graphic designer who has a lot of trouble finding love; Reut, the pretty, high powered finance type; Hodaya, the Bible studies student who severely questions her faith; Natti, the hot shot doc who never seems in touch with his feelings; and Amir, who has to deal with divorcing his first wife, living with Natti?
First, many of us have been in their shoes. These are very relatable people – of varying degrees. Yes, they are observant and serious about their religion more than perhaps many of those watching on TV, but following the nuances of kashrut and Shabbat are not the only driving forces in their lives. Interestingly, none of the five actors are observant.
Thanks to the character development – and it is quite extensive – we care about the individuals for the most part, but at some point or another, each character displays qualities that we all have felt or imagine feeling.
Like many of us, they search for friendships (their regular Shabbat meals together was most indicative of the ties that bind and grow stronger due to a shared experience). In their cases, as they approach 30 (late for the observant to get hitched), they want to find their soul mate. Amir did once, or so he thought.
For those who have been to Jerusalem, recognizable street scenes bring a positive feeling as well.
As an article in the Jewish Review of Books (Yair Rosenberg, Spring 2010) points out, Srugim (Hebrew for “knitted” as in the yarmulke the men wear) smartly stays away from opining about religion and politics. The latter is almost entirely left out of the series. As for religion, it’s not so much a commentary on the Orthodox way being right (or wrong), but just given as “this is way it is” for those who are observant. And it’s so easy to be observant either, which could be eye opening to the non-Orthodox world.
Srugim drew a big audience in Israel, and that meant that not only the Orthodox community watched. At some level, the show helps break down barriers or misconceptions. In many ways, the young Orthodox are just like you or me. Yes, they have their faith. And when Reut studies with a yeshiva student to learn how to read haftorah at a women’s minyan, that, too, helps open doors. So do questions raised about being Orthodox and gay. The Orthodox have their problems, their warts, their issues. No one is immune.
Srugim is an appealing, enlightening, sometimes emotional show. Long may Yifat, Hodaya, Reut, Amir and Natti run, even it’s only for one more season.
Jeffrey B. Remz is the Communications and Marketing Manager for The Boston Jewish Film Festival.