One nation, divisible by God

Autonomies begins airing Thursday evening on HOT3 and on HOT video on demand.

From the Israel television show Autonomies, September 4, 2018 (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
From the Israel television show Autonomies, September 4, 2018
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
A hassidic man pulls a packet of pork out of a casket containing a corpse – and copious amounts of pornography – and tosses it to his friend.
“Hide this somewhere on you,” he says. “No Jew deserves to lie in a coffin with pork.”
The man thinks for a moment, then sticks it down the front of his pants, nestled up against the fringes of his tzitzit.
This jarring scene appears early in the first episode of the new HOT series Autonomies, which is premiering in Israel this week. The show features an autonomous haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enclave within the State of Israel, separated by a heavy steel wall. In this dystopian reality, the “Jewish Autonomy in the Holy Land” has existed for close to 30 years, after a period of civil war that left 13 yeshiva students dead.
The man with the pork is Yona Broyde, a hassidic father of four, played by comedic genius Assi Cohen, who is particularly effective in the serious role. Broyde makes a living smuggling contraband into the haredi autonomy, ranging from porn to lingerie, iPads and even philosophy books. His long-suffering wife, Blumi, played by ubiquitious TV host Rotem Sela (Beauty and the Baker), mostly turns the other cheek to his pursuits, though even she doesn’t know the full extent of his transgressions.
People move in and out of the autonomy – whose capital is in Jerusalem – passing through its impenetrable wall after intensive checks and searches. The autonomy is ruled by religious police, while Israel is ruled by a democratic government that allows freedom of religion but separates it entirely from the state.
The tensions of 30 years ago are on the back burner, as the two sides have a reached a tenuous, prevailing peace. But one little girl could change all that.
A young girl named Goni has grown up in the State of Israel – ruled from its capital of Tel Aviv – to French-Israeli parents (Dana Ivgy and Yaakov Zada Daniel).
But it turns out that young Goni isn’t actually their daughter. Instead, she was born to a hassidic couple (veteran Tali Sharon and relative newcomer Yuval Mendelson) and is the granddaughter of the grand Kreinitzer rebbe, played, of course, by the inimitable Shuli Rand. A hospital mix-up – and tragedy – left the haredi parents thinking their daughter had died, and sent Goni home with the wrong family.
But now that the truth has emerged, the two families – and the two autonomous states – will never be the same again.
The story of young Goni, caught between two worlds, captures the public’s interest in both nations, and rapt attention turns to a legal hearing slated to decide her fate. But will both sides accept the ruling, or will decades of simmering tensions once again consume the country?
“I don’t believe that anyone longs for the days when we funded the parasitic haredim, and suffered from the leeches and bloodsuckers,” the country’s fictional prime minister tweeted on the day of the ruling.
The six-part miniseries, which premiered internationally at the Series Mania festival in France in May, is not quite like anything seen on television before.
In the world of Autonomies (at least in the first two episodes) there are no Palestinians. But the state, divided by a heavy wall, checkpoints and searches, will certainly echo for many viewers.
Autonomies was created by Yehonatan Indursky and Ori Elon, who were also behind the popular drama Shtisel, which focused on an ultra-Orthodox family living in Jerusalem. But unlike that more relatively light-hearted show, Autonomies is a disturbing, thought-provoking and alarming look at a world that never was. But will it ever be?
Autonomies begins airing Thursday evening on HOT3 and on HOT Video on Demand.