The Shtisel effect

They may be entertainment shows, but the characters and storylines can become part of daily discussions, and help foster pride in one’s new country’s talented artists and cultural success.

Shtisel (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the most fascinating aspects of making aliyah is watching how easily young people are able to integrate in a new world, learn a new language and fit in with a completely different culture. Our children were 9 and 10 years old when we arrived in Israel from South Africa. Looking back, I would suggest that in their case, this was arguably the ideal age to start out in a new country. Why? They get the best of both worlds, so to speak – they are old enough to remember the traditions, positive traits and culture of their early childhood years, but young enough to easily immerse themselves in a new culture without any fears or insecurities.
Our personal journey has shown us that part of this ‘immersion’ in a new culture for young people comes in two seemingly obvious forms – sports and pop culture. A few weeks after our arrival, our son was playing in a school football match. The coach was shouting all sorts of instructions at the team in Hebrew with the enthusiasm and matching hand gestures that made Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp look tame. His determined teammates and opponents were also vocal throughout the game, shouting at players to pass the ball, with voices that belied the size of their tiny bodies.
What better way to learn a new language quickly! I am convinced that sport is a unifying force the world over. As an English-speaking mother watching that school soccer game, the instructions being shouted across the field may not have made much sense. But my 10-year-old certainly seemed to get it. Growing up in South Africa, political leaders from across the spectrum often spoke of the ability of sports to break down barriers between different cultures. The 2010 Soccer World Cup was a moving case in point – the global tournament saw South Africans of all colors and political affiliations supporting their beloved team Bafana Bafana on the world stage. I have no doubt, all sports in all countries – whether an international test clash or a school league – have the ability to strengthen bonds between players and fans. An easy and obvious way to help people of all ages realize how similar we all are…
I’m not your toy….
There are few more heart-warming moments than driving with the radio blaring and smiling as your two children belt out the words to their latest favorite song. Another galvanizing force in the country has to be that of Eurovision sensation Netta Barzilai. Her unconventional performance and, for some, controversial win at the 2018 Eurovision contest made headlines the world over. But, here in Israel she seemed to unite music lovers from across the spectrum, with seemingly unified support for her powerful message, celebrating diversity. People of all ages were hoping that Netta would take the title, and when she did, she was celebrated like the star she is.
Getting to know local television shows, actors and celebrities are also an obvious way to get to know a new culture. When we first arrived in the country, the Israeli television drama “Fauda” was the most spoken about local television show – with much debate over the antics and methods of the lead character Doron – powerfully and convincingly played by Israeli actor Lior Raz – and his “undercover” friends. More recently, the shows “Shtisel” and “When Heroes Fly” are sparking equally intense discussions socially, with superb performances in both by Michael Aloni, who plays a socially awkward single Haredi artist in the former show and a heartthrob former elite soldier in the latter. Television programs like this give much needed insights into aspects of a country and culture that many don’t get to experience.
The character, Akiva Shtisel, and his extended family help provide a window into the world of an ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem many don’t get to interact with, and again, makes one understand that in many cases, we are more similar than we realize.
They may be entertainment shows, but the characters and storylines can become part of daily discussions, and help foster pride in one’s new country’s talented artists and cultural success. Pop culture, too, can help break down barriers for fans of all ages. It seems these local shows and entertainers are winning over fans from across the globe.