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Series / Shtisel

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Shtisel is an Israeli television drama that aired its first season in 2013, its second in 2015, and its third in 2020. It follows the lives of the Shtisel family, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews living in Jerusalem, and how they deal with love, loss, and modernity.

The main characters are Shulem (Dov Glickman), a 60-year-old rabbi and teacher; his youngest son Akiva (Michael Aloni), a bachelor with artistic dreams; his daughter Giti Weiss (Neta Riskin); and Giti's daughter Ruchami (Shira Haas). Supporting characters are Giti's husband Lippe Weiss (Zohar Strauss), Shulem's elder son Zvi Arye (Sarel Pitterman), Shulem's mother Malka (Hanna Rieber in Season 1, Lea Koenig in Season 2), Shulem's coworker Aliza Gvili (Orly Silbersatz-Banai), and Akiva's love interest Elisheva Rotstein (Ayelet Zurer). Season 2 introduces Shulem's brother Nuchem (Sasson Gabai) and Nuchem's daughter Libbi (Hadas Yaron) and elevates Lippe and Malka to main characters. Season 3 elevates Giti and Lippe's son Yosa'le (Gal Fishel) and Ruchami's husband Hanina Tonik (Yoav Rotman) to main characters, and introduces Racheli Warburg (Daniella Kertesz).


All three seasons are available on Netflix with subtitles.

This show provides examples of:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: When Shulem thinks he's about to die, he dreams that he's in line to get into the World to Come. In another dream he meets a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy.
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Being an Israeli show, the creators and characters are obviously aware of non-Ashkenazi Jews, but since nearly all Haredim are Ashkenazi, very few are shown or confirmed.
    • Becomes a plot point in season 3, when Yosa'le falls in love with a Sephardi girl.
  • Arranged Marriage: Truth in Television for many if not most real-life Haredi communities. Akiva and Shulem both frequently visit The Matchmaker Konigsberg, mostly on Akiva's behalf, but Shulem also once he realizes he wants to remarry. Note that the bride and groom have at least some say in choosing their spouse.
  • Artists Are Attractive: Akiva is played by the very handsome Michael Aloni, and several of his love interests are impressed by his artistic skill.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • When Lippe tries to come back after abandoning his wife and kids, Ruchami calls him and tells him to stay away, or she'll tell the whole neighborhood what he did.
    • At the end of season 3, Akiva tells Shulem off for ruining his relationships.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Shulem can't express his feelings to Aliza, and eventually she gets married to someone else.
  • Cartwright Curse: Both of Elisheva's previous husbands died soon after she married them (though she did get Someone to Remember Him By from at least one of them), which is one reason she's hesitant to start a relationship with Akiva.
  • Catchphrase: Nuchem's "reshoim arurim" (damn evil people), which he says about anyone he doesn't like.
  • Contraception Deception: Ruchami has a doctor remove her IUD so Hanina will get her pregnant, while she lets him believe that a surrogate is carrying the baby.
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  • Cool Teacher: Akiva tries to be this to his students. For example, he looks the other way when his class wants to watch the Independence Day air show, which the principal had forbidden.
  • Crocodile Tears: When Akiva expresses doubts about whether he would want to marry Esti, she bursts into tears and he proposes right then to keep her from crying. Later, he realizes it may not have been genuine when her father mentions she used to do the same thing to him.
  • Dead All Along: The Reveal at the end of the first episode of Season 3 is that Libbi has been dead for 8 months.
  • Dead Guy Junior:
    • In Season 2, Giti and Lippe answer an ad for a widow who's willing to pay them to name their baby after her late husband, Zelig.
    • Dvorale is named after her dead grandmother. This one is Truth in Television, since Ashkenazi children are often named this way.
  • Dead Person Conversation: The series frequently shows Posthumous Characters like Shulem's wife Dvora, or ones who died in the show, like Libbi appearing to their loved ones, though it's ambiguous whether it's all in their head.
  • December–December Romance: In season 3, Shulem's brother-in-law Issachar was about to marry his First Love Nechama, but suddenly dies. Shulem floats the idea of the two of them getting together, but she doesn't like him in that way. She does find a kindred spirit in Nuchem, though, who loves classical music just like her.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lippe for most of the first season. He eventually comes back, but Ruchami has a hard time forgiving him.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Akiva doesn't give up when Elisheva tells him she's not interested, visiting her at work and even at home.
  • Everybody Smokes: Shulem, Akiva, Lippe, and Nuchem all smoke, though hardly any of the female characters do.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Shulem almost never supports Akiva's artistic ambitions, and Nuchem actually forbids Akiva from painting ever again if he wants to marry Libbi. Both of them see religion as more important than art, and push Akiva to "grow up and get serious".
  • Fence Painting: When Shulem's struggling to attract students to his new cheder, he has Zvi Arye spread the rumor that he made his own grandchildren take a test to be accepted, and he's only taking the best of the best. Suddenly, every parent wants their sons to get into the elite, selective school.
  • Fired Teacher: Shulem finds out that legally, the school can't employ him as a teacher past age 60, and his paychecks for the past two years have been his pension plus an account his late wife set up so he could continue working. Principal Wasserstein offers to let him continue without pay, though.
    • Later on, he tells Akiva he's fired for taking the morning off to try to sell his work to art galleries.
    • In the third season, the school board forces Shulem to "voluntarily" retire after physically disciplining a student (to be fair, the kid was being a brat and stole Shulem's cane).
  • Fourth Date Marriage: The norm in Haredi communities. Many don't even have four before getting engaged. Giti knew she wanted to marry Lippe after one date, though it took a while for her parents to approve, and her daughter Ruchami takes it Up to Eleven by skipping the dates and engagement and getting married (at 15!) to Hanina, who she'd only met a week or two ago, and had only spoken to in person for the first time that morning! Note that her parents don't know he exists until they're already married, and she doesn't even know if he has living parents.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Yosa'le, who's a Friend to Bugs, only becomes more attracted to Shira Levi when he learns she works in a lab with fruit flies.
  • Ghost Reunion Ending: The Season 3 finale includes a scene where Shulem, Nuchem, and Akiva share a drink and are surrounded by the ghosts of several generations of relatives.
  • Ghostwriter: More of a ghost painter. Akiva gets a job making paintings for Leib Fuchs, who signs them and passes them off as his own. It becomes a problem when he also claims personal paintings Akiva made.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Double subverted and Played for Drama.
    • Giti finds out she's pregnant, when she and her husband already have five children. She doesn't tell him, and pretends to go to a women's retreat to cover her visit to a clinic to explore the possibility of an abortion. She has serious doubts, but almost goes through with it until she gets the news that her elderly mother has fallen down a flight of stairs and is in the hospital. She leaves the clinic and rushes to be with her family, deciding to keep the baby.
    • In season 3, it's revealed that Ruchami and her husband tried to have a baby several years ago (during the Time Skip between seasons), but her pregnancy became life-threatening and she had a medically-necessary abortion. They decide to try surrogacy, but at the last minute Ruchami secretly ends the contract with the surrogate and has a doctor remove her IUD so she'll get pregnant. Once again, her pregnancy becomes dangerous and she's rushed to the hospital, but this time both her and the baby survive.
  • Hidden Depths: In season 2, apropos of nothing, we learn that Giti is a skilled accordion player.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Shulem uses Yiddish to tell his daughter he has a heart condition and doesn't expect to have much time left, since her kids only understand Hebrew. He makes sure they don't know it beforehand, though.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: In Season 3, Ruchami has a high chance of Death by Childbirth, and she and Hanina already had one miscarriage. They plan to use a surrogate, but she ends up pregnant anyway. It ends with her surviving a Traumatic C-Section.
  • Intimate Artistry:
    • After they get engaged, Akiva paints a portrait of Elisheva. Earlier on, when looking through his sketchbook, Fuchs notices the most detailed drawing is of her, hinting at Akiva's true feelings.
    • In Season 2, Akiva and Hadassah draw portraits of each other at her house.
    • In Season 3, we see that Akiva has painted at least 18 portraits of Libbi, and even started a painting of her on their wedding night. He later paints a portrait of Racheli.
  • Kissing Cousins: In the second season, sparks begin to fly between Akiva and his cousin Libbi, so much that even Shulem notices.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Shulem's speech in the Season 1 finale, where he talks about how his mother cares not just about her family, but about fictional characters on TV.
  • Leitmotif: A distinctive, "twinkly" tune plays in dream sequences or scenes where ghosts appear.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents:
    • Shulem wants Akiva to marry a young woman who's never been married, rather than a twice-widowed one like Elisheva.
    • Nuchem is very opposed to Akiva getting together with his daughter Libbi. Although that might have something to do with Akiva being his nephew.
    • Giti and Lippe strongly oppose Ruchami's relationship with Hanina. Somewhat justified, since she eloped at 15 without even telling her parents, to a guy she'd known for a week or two at most.
    • In Season 3, Giti is very opposed to her son Yosa'le's attraction to a Sephardi girl. Lippe is more chill about it, but he respects his wife's wishes. Eventually she agrees, and Yosa'le and Shira Levi become engaged in the finale.
    • Also in Season 3, Shulem is opposed to Akiva's marriage to Racheli when he finds out she has bipolar disorder.
  • Marriage of Convenience: When Akiva's daughter is taken away by the welfare board, Racheli agrees to marry Akiva to put on a good image for the committee, who are more likely to return a child to a couple than to a single father.
  • The Matchmaker: Konigsberg is a shadchan, a traditional occupation in Orthodox communities. Usually the parents come to him looking for a match for their son or daughter, but Akiva is so old (26 in Season 1) to be unmarried that he visits on his own behalf as well. After he dies, his widow takes over the position.
  • Meddling Parents: Shulem, especially to Akiva. He pushes him into an engagement with a woman he doesn't love, then when he's finally with someone he does love, he tells her to break up with Akiva. He also forbade Zvi Arye from becoming a singer, despite him being talented and enjoying it as a child. When Akiva invites him to an award ceremony Akiva got for his art, Shulem hijacks his son's speech with an appeal for the philanthropists behind the award to fund his cheder, with a not-so-subtle "Torah is more important than art" undercurrent.
  • Meganekko: Shira Levi has very prominent glasses.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement:
    • The first season begins with the Shtisel family formally ending the designated mourning period for Dvora, Shulem's wife and mother of Akiva, Giti, and Zvi Arye. Shulem, however, takes some time to fully move on and consider remarrying, which he does attempt several times.
    • One of the overarching plots of Season 3 is Akiva moving on from Libbi's death. At first, he refuses to sell his paintings of her, then tries to get them back, and eventually his marriage to Racheli turns into real love.
  • Must Make Amends: Lippe for most of the show after he realizes he shouldn't have abandoned his family and returns to them. He has a few stumbles, but by Season 3 is unmistakably a better person, and even more on his children's side than his wife is sometimes (in the case of Ruchami and Yosa'le's romantic lives).
  • New Media Are Evil: Shulem and most other Haredim are opposed to the "moral decline" they claim secular media like television will cause, and in the first episode Zvi Arye disconnects his grandmother's TV to "protect" her.
    • Lippe faces this stigma when he tries to find Haredi extras for a TV show.
  • Nobody Thinks It Will Work: Ruchami elopes at 15 with Hanina, a boy she'd only met a week or two ago, and had only spoken to in person for the first time that morning! Her parents don't know he exists until they're already married, and she doesn't even know if he has living parents (she finds out his father is alive, but they're estranged). Her parents, especially her mother, try to get him to divorce her, but after meeting him and finding out what he's like, they acquiesce. This is not to say they don't have marital problems, since the show is a drama, after all.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Shulem has a daughter named Racheli who we meet in the first season, and Akiva meets an art collector with the same name in Season 3. Also averted as a plot point, where Yosa'le meets the wrong girl because they both had the same name (Shira Levi and Shira Levinson).
  • Parent Never Came Back from the Store: In the first episode, Lippe is going to Argentina for a year to work for a kosher meat processor. He uses the opportunity to cut ties and abandon his family.
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: Giti's storyline starts with her husband Lippe vanishing after he went overseas for work, and her having to raise five children on her own. He eventually regrets his actions and comes back, but we never see the other woman.
  • Posthumous Character: Dvora Shtisel, Shulem's wife and mother of Akiva, Giti, Zvi Arye, and Racheli, has been dead for a year in the first episode, and the family is just finishing the mourning period.
  • Pro Bono Barter: A taxi driver takes Akiva (who's forgotten his wallet) to the Sea of Galilee in exchange for painting the nursery at his house.
  • Promotion to Parent: With Lippe gone, teenage Ruchami has to help her mother take care of her four other kids.
  • Romancing the Widow: Shulem, a widower himself, pursues Edna Heshin, a recently-widowed rebbetzin, but breaks it off after she mistakenly calls him by her husband's name and he realizes she has feelings for him. In the next season, the recently-widowed Menukha Konigsberg pursues him, frustrated by his beating around the bush. She ends up being a toxic influence on him and he breaks up with her.
  • Romantic Fake–Real Turn: Racheli marries Akiva when his daughter Dvorale is taken away by the welfare board, as the committee is more likely to believe a family with two parents provides a stable environment for a child than one with only a single father. They plan to divorce after getting her back, but eventually fall in love and decide to stay married.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Shoshanna Erblich has no problem with telling everyone else exactly what she thinks of them.
  • Self-Parody: In Season 3, Lippe provides catering for the set of a TV show about Haredi Jews, and even gets a one-time job as an extra (and later provides other extras).
  • Shipper on Deck: Once Shulem realizes Akiva and Libbi are attracted to each other, he brings up the subject of Akiva as a match for Libbi to Nuchem, and when Nuchem refuses, he arranges for them to both be in the same place for a match meeting. Part of the reason he's so in favor of it is likely wanting to make up for breaking up Akiva and Elisheva.
  • Significant Name Overlap: In Season 3, Yosa'le is supposed to meet a girl named Shira Levinson on an arranged date (to see if they're compatible for an Arranged Marriage), but mistakenly meets a girl named Shira Levi, who's a much better match. Unfortunately, she's Sephardi and he's Ashkenazi, so his parents don't approve.
  • Significant Sketchbook: Akiva's notebook is shown in the intro of each episode, and when looking through it, Fuchs notices his most detailed drawing is of Elisheva, hinting at Akiva's true feelings.
  • Sleep Cute: When Akiva and Libbi take a bus to Tel Aviv, she ends up falling asleep on his shoulder.note  He doesn't wake her up till they arrive.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: Akiva steps out of the classroom to let his students disobey the principal and watch the Independence Day air show.
  • Stern Teacher: Shulem, compared to Akiva. Becomes more so when he becomes the principal.
  • Talking to the Dead: In Season 3, as he's falling in love with Racheli, Akiva goes to Libbi's grave and asks her to let him move on and stop appearing to him.
  • Teacher/Parent Romance: Akiva falls in love with Elisheva, the mother of one of his students.
  • Teasing the Substitute Teacher: Before Akiva becomes a permanent teacher, his students do this to him.
  • Tell Him I'm Not Speaking to Him: Shulem is resentful of his visiting brother Nuchem, and tells Akiva to tell Nuchem to go see their mother (Akiva's grandmother) in the old folks' home. Nuchem is in the next room and can hear Shulem, but Akiva decides to play along and tells Nuchem's daughter (who also heard everything) to tell her father what Shulem just told him. She cracks up halfway through telling her father at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
  • Time Skip: Season 3 is set 6 years after the beginning of Season 1.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several plot threads seem to have been forgotten about:
    • Akiva's friend who, just after meeting his birth mother checked himself into a mental hospital.
    • Shulem's daughter Racheli, who he visited in Nahariya and made a promise with to regularly visit and teach her children.
    • Shulem's heart condition. In Season 1 they made it seem like he only had a year or two to live, but in Season 3, six years later, he seems fine other than needing a cane (he does go to a cardiologist, but ends up okay).
    • The widow who wanted Giti and Lippe to name their baby Zelig never appears again after being uncomfortably involved at his birth.
    • The dog that Yosa'le hid in his dorm room and later entrusted to Shulem runs away at the end of that episode and never appears again.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: For Shulem, Nuchem, and their mother Malka, it seems to be their first language. Akiva also mentions in Season 3 that it's important to him that Dvorale grow up knowing Yiddish.