Television News: Show About Reform Jews Is a Surprise Hit Among the Ultra-Orthodox


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Who knew that a half-hour comedy/drama about the loves and lives of a Reform Jewish family would be such a runaway hit in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community? That’s exactly what’s happening with “Shtickl,” the new series from Ori Kumi and Elchanan Duranduransky, now showing on Netflix.

The series stars Jeff Goldblum as Arthur Shtickl, the patriarch of a loving but complicated Reform Jewish family living in Syosset, L.I. Arthur, a psychiatrist, goes to synagogue three times a year and feels bad about it, but feels even worse that his daughter Lindsey is becoming a rabbi and will probably be dependent on him until she pays off her student debt. His wife, Shelly (Fran Drescher), a real estate broker, has opened a boutique selling scented candles, and has been feuding with Linda (Christine Baranski), the synagogue administrator, who refuses to carry her products in the Beth Elohim Judaica shop.

Rounding out the cast is Zack Schor as Evan Shtickl, who is living at home after graduating Brandeis with a degree in philosophy, and Grandpa Harvey (Billy Crystal), whose MSNBC habit and loosely tied bathrobe is driving the rest of the family crazy. 

Despite an emphasis on the strict Reform customs of a suburban Long Island family (Shelly Shtickl, for example, chairs her temple social action committee; Evan met his on-again, off-again boyfriend at a NFTY convention), the show is wildly popular in charedi neighborhoods like Mea Shearim and Bnei Brak, where people are secretly downloading the show to their cellphones and laptops.

Orthodox viewers say they appreciate the precise attention to detail, from the late model Prius that Arthur drives to the Marc Chagall print that hangs in the Shtickls’ living room. Baruch Fruman, of Har Nof, said the program reminds him of his ancestors. “I was born Barry Fruman in Newton, Mass. ‘Shtickl’ makes me nostalgic for my summers at URJ Eisner Camp, before I enrolled at Yeesh Hatorah seminary, met my bashert and raised eight children.”

Ultimately, says Duranduransky, himself the grandson of Reform Jews, “the show is about how much we have in common. Whether we spend Sunday mornings over bagels and The New York Times before heading to the gym, or whether we devote most of our waking hours to studying Torah and protesting Saturday bus service, it turns out we are all one people.”