I remember my Jerusalem bachelor days with mixed emotions. Ah, those carefree days, with nothing in the fridge but a rotting cucumber and a yogurt.
Some of those memories came streaming back during a recent viewing via Walla's YES pages of two episodes of the excellent new series Srugim, about the single scene among Jerusalem's observant community in the area of the city around Hapalmach and Emek Refaim Streets, known to its members as "The Swamp."
While it's been 26 years since those bachelor days, it was easy to relate to the dating games being played by flatmates student Hodaya (Tali Sharon), graphic artist Yifat (Yael Sharoni) and liberated working girl Reut (Sharon Fauster) with their male counterparts, surgeon Naty (Ohad Knoller) and the recently-divorced Amir (Amos Tamam).
Particularly charming was the opening of the first episode, featuring Yifat at a speed-dating session in a neighborhood restaurant, where she first encounters a loser who wants to know if she plans to cover her hair when she gets married and another weirdo who asks if she knows the facts to prove that the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah. Before she gets to answer, however, the bell rings for her to meet the next guy.
In between bells, she meets blue-eyed hunk Naty, who turns out to be an old acquaintance from Bnei Akiva youth group days. He manipulates the speed dating to get Yifat on her own, and the young woman thinks he's romantically interested. But the course of young love doesn't always go smoothly, even at 30 plus, and complications - both real and created - arise before the two finally do get together.
Meanwhile Hodaya, the less observant and more independent of the female duo, is trying to figure out what to do with her guy Bezalel. Soon enough, he makes it easy for her. After allowing him to stay overnight because he was too drunk to go home, Hodaya arranges to have the American girl next door - American actor/comedian/massage therapist Shira Katz, making her Israeli TV debut and ironically the only real observant actor in the show - lend him hers. "You want me to put on a Reform lesbian's tefillin?" Bezalel asks, making it all the easier for Hodaya to dump him.
Thanks to their own Jerusalem backgrounds, creators Hava Dibon and Eliezer "Lazy" Shapira have the Jerusalem religious singles scene down pat, revolving around pick-ups before, during, and after synagogue and Sabbath dinners and lunches. And their script, written with several other collaborators, is also spot-on. For example, when Amir - summoned by Reut to fix her bed shortly after she rejects the marriage proposal of her long-time, chauvinist boyfriend - asks Naty whether that "means anything?" Naty replies, "It means she sees you as a carpenter."
While not everything works, particularly Reut's character, which seems overplayed, almost everything else does: the glimpses of the neighborhood, the discussions of the boundaries of religious observance, and the pressure from parents and peers to get married. So when Yifat runs into Bezalel in his A-shirt in the kitchen one morning, she scolds Hodaya, reminding her that there are house rules about guys staying over. "Those rules need to be rewritten anyway," Hodaya snaps back.
Call it thirtysomething for observant Jerusalemites if you like, but Srugim has a definite charm, and Sharoni and Sharon along with the two guys bring a sincerity and charm to the capital dating dance that makes the show a winner and worth watching. Besides, who knows? Maybe that cute guy or girl across the hall is finally free and would like to watch the show with you. It sure beats a lone meal of cucumber and yogurt for dinner again.
Srugim airs on YES Stars 3, Monday nights at 10 p.m.
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