American audiences love Jane Austen movies, and Israelis enjoy television and films about the ultra-Orthodox for the same reason: Marriage in these worlds is very dramatic.
Just as in the Jane Austen era, the ultra-Orthodox marry after what secular people would consider a very brief acquaintance – a handful of platonic dates. And just as in England several centuries ago, divorce is an option, but a very negative one. A divorced woman, or even a divorced man, is seen as damaged goods when it comes to finding a new spouse. So marriage is a huge decision, one that carries weight and pressure beyond what it does in the secular world.
The search for a spouse in the haredi world has recently been the subject of a much-acclaimed feature film, Fill the Void, and a series on YES called Shtisel. And now on YES Docu, it is the focus of a new documentary series, A Match Made in Heaven, that starts on September 8 at 9 p.m.
Notice that I use the term “documentary series” rather than “reality show.” That’s because it is a serious, well-made and compulsively watchable exploration of the subject, and not an exploitative one.
A Match Made in Heaven follows several ultra-Orthodox young people looking to get married. Some of them go through well-intentioned matchmakers, others are set up by friends and family. What’s compelling here is not the difference between their path and that of secular singles but its similarity. The same types are present in this world, the same desires and the same pressures. Everything is happening a decade earlier than in the secular world perhaps, but we can all identify with these young people.
They are searching for a “click” or “chemistry,” but they must decide whether it is there after meeting someone once or twice, and without any physical contact.
The characters that emerge are fascinating. There is Hezki, a 23-yearold Gur Hassid who studies and is a scribe, whom everyone will recognize as the guy who just can’t commit.
He’s a veteran of four years of dating already, and his friends and family are getting frustrated with him. He wants some kind of elusive, perfect woman who has qualities he can’t quite articulate, the same way some secular guys seem to be holding out for a supermodel.
The most touching figure is Merav, a 25-year-old lawyer getting a master’s degree, who is gorgeous, lively and stylish. But because she is divorced – she and her husband split up because he had agreed before the wedding that he would work, and then he changed his mind and decided to study Torah full time – she is seen as “Sug Bet,” a kind of secondclass citizen.
While Merav’s situation makes crystal clear how intense the pressure is on the women, everyone in this world, where the community standards are so clear and often so harsh, faces pressure.
Ariel is a 19-year-old who is going to learn to be a kosher butcher. He and Esti, a very confident 18-year-old, find that click. But the prospect of marriage is clearly terrifying for him.
You can see the panic in his face as her mother pressures his mother to set a wedding date.
It’s curious why people from a culture where no one owns a TV – one couple on a date decide not to marry because she wants a computer and he doesn’t, but television isn’t an option for either of them – would want to appear in this series.
However, we should be grateful that they agreed because A Match Made in Heaven is simply great television.
POLITICAL TV series are definitely the new trend. There’s Veep, Borgen, Spin, Yes, Minister and The Thick of It, and now there’s The Politician’s Husband, which starts on HOT VOD on September 15. It stars Oscar-nominated actress Emily Watson and David Tennant (who played Doctor Who several times over the years) as a married couple who are politicians.
When the wife’s career begins to eclipse her husband’s, they both have to adjust. It’s a bit soapy, but it’s intelligent and well acted.