Grapevine: Perchance we'll meet

Movers and shakers in Israel society.

MICHAEL ALONI in his role as Akiva in the hit TV series ‘Shtisel’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
MICHAEL ALONI in his role as Akiva in the hit TV series ‘Shtisel’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The increasing popularity of TV series based on haredi communities, whether in the genre of fiction or reality, points to the curiosity of nonreligious Jews in Israel and abroad to know more about their religious heritage – without necessarily becoming a part of it – and avoiding embarrassment by revealing their ignorance while sitting in the comfort of their homes in front of their TV sets. No one else need be aware of how much or how little viewers actually know or practice.
Israeli productions of this kind are usually set in Jerusalem as is the delightful reality show on KAN 11 Perhaps We’ll Meet, which is reaching its climax. The show centers on five secular people – three men and two women – all of who have been alienated from a close relative who leads a haredi lifestyle. Now they all are looking for reconciliation.
One of the women wants to be reconciled with her father who left her mother when the young woman was still an infant, found religion and started a new haredi family, without ever coming back to inquire about the welfare of his first-born child. The other woman has a son who severed contact with her because of her inability to understand his reason for becoming religious. She is unfortunately uncompromising in her attitude towards religion, but we see her gradually softening from one episode to the next, albeit insufficiently. Of the men, one actually grew up in a traditional home but moved away from religion, while his brother became more observant. One has an identical twin brother, who became haredi. Although they fought over religion and haven’t spoken to each other in years, each misses the other terribly but is wary of being influenced by the other. The third is a pleasant live-and-let-live-type man, who simply wants to reunite his family with everyone showing understanding and respect for how the other lives without trying to change the other.
Each of the five has been given a mentor who either has relatives who are not religious, or who himself was raised in a secular family and became religious, but never broke away from his family. All five have to spend several days, including Shabbat, in a haredi enclave of Jerusalem, so that they can get the feeling of the environment and be more open to what is going on around them if and when they meet their relative.
It is already obvious that although some will get their wish, there will not be a happy ending for all five, which is very sad given the emphasis that Jewish tradition places on family.
The importance of family is the underlying message of the program, which repeatedly promotes the idea that immediate family members should not permit differences in ideology or lifestyle to come between them.
Unfortunately, in real life, we see such differences far too often as was the case with the late influential radio and television broadcaster and author Israel Segal, who was born into a religious family in Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood. He went to a religious elementary school and high school, after which he studied at a yeshiva in Tel Aviv and was subsequently accepted to the prestigious Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. It was there at age 20 that Segal stopped being religious. This led to many quarrels with his elder brother Dan Segal who became increasingly haredi. Dan Segal’s personality was such that he influenced all the other close members of the family to ostracize Israel Segal.
When their father died, Dan had Israel thrown out of the funeral. When Israel died of a brain hemorrhage in September 2007, Dan refused to attend his funeral and forbade other family members from attending or observing the shiva mourning period.
In his semi-autobiographical novel My Brother’s Keeper, published in 2004, Israel Segal dwelt on the dilemmas of the two brothers.
Apparently, blood is not always thicker than water.