Haredim in the IDF get the small-screen treatment

'Kippat Barzel' shines spotlight on the 'Nahal Haredi' battalion.

The protagonists of ‘Kippat Barzel,’ playing infantrymen in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, pose at their base. (photo credit: ODED KARNI)
The protagonists of ‘Kippat Barzel,’ playing infantrymen in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, pose at their base.
(photo credit: ODED KARNI)
A group of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews surrounds a bus, yelling and throwing eggs on it. Aboard the bus? Haredi men who are signing up for army service.
While it could be a clip in a news story, this scene is from the first episode of Kippat Barzel, an Israeli scripted drama from Keshet that premiered on Tuesday night.
The show, whose title translates to Iron Dome but is also a pun relating to the kippa, tells the story of a platoon in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, still known as “Nahal Haredi” although it is no longer part of the Nahal Brigade.
The ragtag group, made up of religious young men of all stripes, hails from varying backgrounds and families – with very disparate motivations for enlisting.
The focus sits on three of the platoon members: Yaakov, an idealistic and devout hassid from Jerusalem, Amram, a wayward youth from Bnei Brak escaping something sinister, and Gur, a National-Religious soldier whose mindset becomes the subject of concern as the series unfolds.
The show is directed by Alon Zingman, who is also behind the popular TV program Shtisel, which focuses on an ultra-Orthodox family living in the heart of Jerusalem.
Israeli audiences have seen many shows focused on army life – after all, it’s a reality for the majority of citizens. But, as Kippat Barzel portrays, life as a haredi soldier offers a different slate of trials and tribulations than the average recruit encounters.
These young men have to adjust to life away from yeshiva and their insular communities. They are encountering – despite efforts to the contrary – young women for perhaps the first time, and discover both newfound freedom and newfound restrictions. The group also experiences resistance from some secular platoons on the same base, who see the ultra-Orthodox soldiers as easy targets for pranks and hazing.
And, unlike most secular soldiers, many of the characters in the show are subject to another hardship – the rejection of their families. The first episode shows Yaakov carefully changing out of his uniform in the bathroom before returning to his parents’ home, where he is turned away at the door.
“It’s best if you go sleep at your grandmother’s,” his father tells him, saying the family has had a “difficult week” since he enlisted. After his departure he has a run-in with his friends and brother, who have a more violent reaction to what they see as Yaakov’s betrayal.
Haredi men who enlist in the IDF are a small but growing group; figures from 2016 show the rate at approximately 30%, compared to 72% of the general male population.
The show is sure to stir feelings on the sensitive topic from all sides, though the haredi community is not a big consumer of TV. But it may also rouse compassion for the struggle of the young men going against all odds, and against the tide.
Kippat Barzel can be seen on Channel 2 and on Mako.co.il, and will move to Channel 12 Keshet when the TV networks split next month.