The Ultra Orthodox Jewish community does not often get represented in mass media. In recent times, two shows focused on that community with dramatically different results – and seemingly, intentions.
Netflix aired two seasons of an Israeli show “Shtisel” about an Ultra Orthodox family in Jerusalem. The show revealed the complicated family structure and dynamics of a dysfunctional Haredi family to a surprisingly broad public appeal. Jews and non-Jews around the world flocked to watch the show as they saw much of themselves in the family relationships despite the distant and insular community in which they lived.
This was in sharp contrast to a recent episode of NBC’s “Nurses” which aired on February 9 which also featured religious Jews. In that episode, a young Hasidic patient refused a bone graft lest the skin come from a “dead goyim leg from anyone. An Arab, a woman.” Due to howls of protest of the disgusting portrayal, NBC pulled the show from its online library.
“Shtisel” did not shy away from the peculiar traditions of the Hasidic community such as rigid gender roles, courtship rituals or dress code. The writers did not try to make the characters perfect in any matter: they were at once deeply flawed and deeply human. Their failures and pains enveloped the audience. While the people on screen were clearly different, the common humanity was appreciated and celebrated by all viewers.
This was in sharp contrast to the approach of “Nurses.” The show did not try to show religious Jews as sharing the same day-to-day conflicts and concerns but cast them as distinctly foreign with unheard of alien beliefs. These Jews held racist and xenophobic attitudes that were designed to shock the audience. These were another set of the “deplorables” that Hillary Clinton had warned America about. They weren’t the classic white-hooded clansmen, but black-hatted supremacists all the same.
Not two weeks later, NBC’s Saturday Night Live aired a segment of “Weekend Update” which accused Israel of only vaccinating Jews against COVID-19, leaving non-Jews to die, a complete falsehood. No apology was forthcoming from the comedian, the show or network.
The vilification of religious Jews in the United States is growing ever more commonplace and mainstream media and liberal politicians will tell you that it is all from right-wing fringe groups, even as they air anti-Semitic segments with increasing regularity.
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