Ultra-Orthodox Jews on Israeli TV with Shayna Weiss

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In this episode we’re excited to share a presentation by Shayna Weiss about Israeli TV titled “Black is the New Black: Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Israel, and the Globalization of Television,” and a conversation with her about Israeli television, the representation of ultra-Orthodox Jews in this medium, and why this matters as we put Israel in a global context.

Shayna Weiss is the associate director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. Her research focuses on the intersection of religion and gender in the Israeli public sphere, as well as the politics of Israeli popular culture. This comes together in a book manuscript she’s currently working on, about gender segregation in the Israeli public sphere, as well as her work on Israeli TV.

TV Shows and articles mentioned in the episode include:

We were so glad to have Shayna join us here at the University of Texas at Austin for this exciting presentation, which we are excited to share via the podcast. These issues are really important, as we think about Israeli culture in its global context—with television serving as a fascinating window into how Israel represents itself on the world stage, the place of religion in Israeli society, and how Israel relates to the global marketplace.

If you’re interested in having Shayna speak about these issues and other related topics about popular culture, gender, and religion in modern and contemporary Israel, you can reach out to her by email at shaynaw AT brandeis.edu.

Shayna’s visit, and this episode, was made possible through the support and cosponsorship of the Israel Institute, the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT Austin, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Department of Radio-Television-Film, and the Department of Religious Studies.

An edited transcript of our conversation follows:

Jason Lustig: Shayna, thanks so much first of all for joining us here at UT for this really interesting presentation. I was hoping we could talk about it a bit more in depth, about why all of these issues are important for thinking about a range of social and cultural questions as it relates to Israel, Jewish history and broader issues. And so I think the first thing that maybe we can start out with is thinking about: Why TV? In your presentation, you talked about the history of TV in Israel. You talked about a range of Israeli TV shows. Do you maybe want to say something about what about TV sparks your interest, how you came to it, but also why this is a set of issues that opens up bigger questions?

Shayna Weiss: What’s interesting about TV is not just what’s on the screen, which is obviously fascinating, the content, the programs, but also that TV even more than film is an inherently commercial industry and that it’s there to make money, and it’s there to be sold. So for every TV show that you see there is an army of people producing it, acting, editing, and then selling the show, selling the format, selling the international rights. And especially for Israeli television, which has become a force on the global market, looking at those relationships that happen sort of off screen is a really interesting way to think about how Israel relates to the world around itself and how it sells itself. And again, that’s not just on the shows, but the relationships that come out. So the arrangement, as I mentioned for HBO to make a show Our Boys, for example, but use an Israeli production team, what does that say about how Israel relates to the world, how Israel relates to America, etc? And of course also by sheer number, a lot more people watch TV than cinema or certain movies. And the messages that people are receiving or internalizing and how they think about them is a really interesting way to think about how Israel is perceived the world over.

JL: So you think that TV is useful in terms of seeing the representation of Israel and Israeli culture?

SW: Yes, and now that Israeli TV is a popular format around the world, there’s more of a self-consciousness than before. One of the things I mentioned was something called the “Fauda effect,” which is what a producer explained to me as is that when you pitch a show in Israel, the studios, the networks, they want to know not just how the show will sell in Israel, but globally. What’s interesting about this is that you might think that only shows like Fauda, which are about terrorists and counter-terrorists would be popular, but we’ve actually seen that there is also a market for shows that are not like that at all. For example, the shows I talked about today, which are about ultra-Orthodox Jews, shows like Shtisel, are in some ways the polar opposite. So what is popular is not necessarily what is the most universal, so to speak, which is what’s really, I think, interesting about these and how these shows play out.

JL: I guess one followup issue with that is, in what ways do you think that looking at Israeli TV can help us to better understand broader issues within Israeli society? Especially because so much of it is really produced with an eye towards the outside world and global consumption, as opposed to the local Israeli TV market, which as you talked about is highly fragmented and just generally smaller than the global market?

SW: So one, you can just pay attention to who’s portrayed, who are the actors on screen, where do they come from, what are their stories? Who is represented? But of course, like with any piece of art, everything on television is a decision. Every time there’s a closeup, every time there’s a tracking shot or whatever, that’s a decision that was made, and we can think about those decisions to understand about Israeli society. Even the location. Shows that are set in Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv where the sort of standard, or where shows about more secular Jews tended to be shot. Those can all tell us about Israeli society and what’s at the center and what’s at the periphery because those are all rapidly changing.

We can also see how much explanation they put in. Are they trying to explain themselves to a larger audience? Are they trying to offer you a peek inside a society. And also what’s presented as Israeli? Are these presented as mainstream stories? Are these presented as stories from the fringe? Because I think what we see in Israeli television the same way we see maybe in American television is that who is in Israeli is changing. It’s not automatically anymore a secular Ashkenazi army veteran. Like the sort of the stereotype of what might see in Fauda but with shows like Arab Labor or Shababnikim, we see a new kind of Israeli, maybe not so new but new on the screen.

JL: I think a part of what you’re saying here, and I think that this is part of a bigger trend in terms of the production of media and the diversification of societies, not just in Israel but elsewhere too, is the way in which the representation of various groups, whether we’re talking about Palestinian Arabs or ultra-Orthodox Jews or Mizrahim going beyond the standard sort of “white Ashkenazi sabra with proteksia (connections).” But as the people who are being represented on screen expand, it creates a more diverse and colorful cast of characters for people to watch and to identify with as well. I think that we see this in the growth of TV shows like Black-ish in America and so on. Just that what is interesting here is that the developments in Israel are part of a more global trend.

SW: Right, exactly. And of course the same sorts of debates about how a minority represents itself. Does it only show the good? To what extent can it critique? All those conversations that happen around a show like Black-ish or Atlanta happen in a different way, but in the same kind of discussion, same kind of values. When you have a show, let’s say like Arab Labor, which is about an Israeli Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, which Sayyid Kashua has actually said he regrets some of the satirical elements because people maybe didn’t realize it was satire. This is not a direct quote. But he has a whole column where he talks about when he realized the Avigdor Lieberman was a fan of Arab Labor, which is this satirical show, he felt that he had failed. And to what extent do you be part of mainstream society to critique it, etc? These are questions that any show struggles with and we see those struggles in Israeli society as well.

JL: I guess one related issue here is about how Israel is portrayed and understood in the wider world, inasmuch as these these are TV shows that are not just being watched by Israelis and certainly not just by Jews. And so part of what’s interesting about the increase in the amount of Israeli TV, which is available for viewing within the global TV marketplace, is that this is a way for people to view and understand Israel in a range of ways that previously had not been available.

SW: And you’re starting to see politicians talking about this Israeli TV, either for good or for bad. Lior Raz, the star of Fauda spoke at AIPAC. And it’d be become part of this hasbara narrative. Now whether or not Lior Raz is doing it for the money or he wants to help Israel’s image we can argue about. but it’s interesting that he’s part of that. And on the flip side, we have a show like Our Boys, which has been hugely criticized within Israel because it focuses on the murder of the Palestinian teenager. You have Benjamin Netanyahu calling the show antisemitic, that it should be boycotted.

You can’t separate the fact that Channel 12, the channel that showed it in Israel, is also one of the main channels investigating and releasing a lot of the corruption scandals. But even the fact that he thought that that would score him political points and say about a TV show, “We should boycott this Israeli-made TV show because it’s antisemitic” is really interesting to me. Not because I think it’s a valid critique per se, but because it has traction or that there’s concern about Israel’s image on these television shows.

JL: I think it’s interesting because it’s part of this bigger transformation of the media landscape. You talk about how in Israel there was no TV before 1968, which is a really kind of fascinating historical fact, but also just reflects a sense of the nature of media in Israel and elsewhere too, where for decades TV was the joke and film was where it was at. And in a lot of ways it’s kind of been turned on its head.

SW: And it’s also a lot about government control. In Israel, television, there was one channel. I should say there was a little bit of TV before 1968. There were some experiments with educational television. And when we talk about television as we know it, the IBA, the Israel Broadcast Authority’s channel started in 1968. And it was state-regulated, and like anything in Israel, it was controlled largely by the Labor Party. Because those were the elite. As that starts to deregulate, starting in the ’80s and the ’90s, we see the entry of commercial interests. And what’s interesting to me in Israel’s transition from a more socialist-leaning to a more capitalist-leaning state, the TV industry also plays a role of that as well. Really the role of government and the declining role of government is part of the story of that. And for me that’s really interesting.

JL: Yeah, I mean I think there’s a lot that we could talk about here about why TV has risen to such prominence in Israel and so on. But I really want to focus on this question of the Haredim, of the ultra-Orthodox, as you put it, “black as the new black.” Why do you think that the Haredim are so prominent in terms of representations of Israel in the TV medium?

SW: I think for a couple of reasons. One is that visually it’s very gripping, especially for male Haredim, they look different, they dress different. So like unlike, let’s say, Mizrahi Jews, which due to large amounts of intermarriage between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews and sort of melding of these cultures, it’s not necessarily as easy to visually distinguish one from the other. With Haredi Jews there’s a stark visual language that you can tap into.

I also think it’s an internal other. Unlike, let’s say, the issue of the Palestinians, this is an other that’s still Jewish, and when you explore this other, you’re also asking questions about your own Jewish identity. And here, I’m obviously speaking for the Jewish Israeli majority. So in some ways it’s almost a safer other because it’s still part of this Jewish collective. And I think for so long, because it was the antithesis of the sort of “new Jew,” you have the old Haredi Jew who is living an exilic way of life and clings to tradition and that’s opposite to the new Israeli Sabra. Given that those ideas have, I don’t want to say fully collapsed, but have definitely shifted, especially with a growing interest in religion in Israeli society, the Haredim are a natural place to turn.

JL: I think that it’s a reflection of the fact that the Haredim are a major part of Israeli society.

SW: Correct. Definitely. And there is a larger and larger number of Israeli Haredim who are interested in being part of wider Israeli society and see themselves as part of wider Israeli society. And that plays a role not just in employment but also in the cultural world as well.

JL: I think that it’s interesting because it reminds me of a whole range of issues. We did the episode with David Biale a while back, where we talked about the history of Hasidism. And one of the questions that we talked about then was why Hasidim are of great interest. And part of the question there was ways in which this particular set of Jews represents a kind of an internal other with which many Jews are fascinated. And I think that this is also true in terms of the question of Haredim on TV. I think there’s a fascination with this group of people that are broadly speaking not that well understood by the general public. And I think maybe even the case amongst some of the TV producers, though you know lot more about that than I do. I think that there is this aspect of kind of an Orientalism within it.

SW: So I think there was an awareness of that delicate balance of not wanting to be entirely voyeuristic, like offering a peep in. And I think if you look at some of the earlier shows, especially in cinema, less so in television, you see some of that voyeurism, like we want to look inside this hidden society, show you all their secrets, etc. I think because there are many more insiders narrow involved, there’s less of that. But it’s still definitely something that’s discussed, this sort of Orientalist gaze and to what extent this plays a role in all of us.

I also think, specifically for Hasidim, there is some strains of Hasidic thought are really popular in Israel, way beyond the Hasidic public. And that’s really Rebbe Nachman, and to some extent Chabad philosophy as well. But if you think of Rebbe Nachman and the idea is of seeking, of finding yourself that speak very well to a modern population, and a lot of artists especially are actually really drawn to Rebbe Nachman. Some of them have actually become Hasidic. Shuli Rand is probably the most famous of that. But even among those who haven’t, they still will go to Uman. I just thinking, post pictures of themselves learning the Maharan, Rebbe Nachman’s teaching. And so this interest in seeking and sort of new age spirituality and some aspects of Hasidism do meld very well together. And we see that in the entertainment industry in Israel, which a lot of celebrities are becoming more interested in Judaism. And that, of course, plays a role in the subjects and the shows that they make as well.

JL: Correct me if I’m wrong, would you say that most of the representations of ultra-Orthodox Jews, of Haredim, on Israeli TV is not Hasidic Judaism, but more the Misnagdic approach, with the focus on learning and studying, or am I off the mark here?

SW: Well, I think in general these worlds are much more mixed than they were even, let’s say, fifty years ago. And so even in the Hasidic world, they have Hasidic Yeshivas and stuff like that. I would say that most shows are either about Sephardi Haredim, and I actually think that’s where some of the most interesting shows are coming from, or actually the Hasidim because that again is sort of more easily… the language for that is there in the culture. The sidelocks, the ecstatic worship, etc. And also because, again, not every kind of Hasidism but a lot of Hasidic thought lends itself to a spiritual seeking discourse that draws in, I think, a lot of more secular viewers. But it’s usually not, and this is very on purpose, it’s usually not a specific sect. It’s usually an amalgamation, because they don’t necessarily want to make it about the Vizhnitzer, or the Bubov, etc. There was an exception. There was a show, which I loved, called Katmandu, about a Chabad house in Nepal, and it’s this fictional series about a Chabad couple in Nepal, but that’s an exception that was about a specific group.

JL: Right, I think that that’s part of something that happens with the production for TV and film in general. That you have the creation of composite characters, and just the same way you have a “composite religion,” in a way, because the truth is that very few viewers will understand the difference between this Hasidic dynasty and that Hasidic dynasty, or even just the distinction between the Hasidic Jews and the Misnagdim. I think that part of what’s interesting about the representation of ultra-Orthodox Jews is that on the one hand, this is a portal through which people come to understand ultra-Orthodoxy to a limited extent, but it’s also an arena where this image is being crafted and curated of a unified amalgamation of different aspects of a very diverse culture.

SW: Yes, definitely. Even if you look at a show like Shtisel, their interests are bourgeoisie, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. But the search for meaning, finding love, moving on—I think they’re late modern Western culture. We know that ideas of romantic love aren’t necessarily compatible with traditional Hasidic notions of marrying, or of semi-arranged marriages. This idea for personal meaning, that’s a very Western idea. And so in shows like Shtisel, they’re recognizable because they map onto pretty standard Western TV narratives. Of course, not all Haredim and not all Hasidim fall into that category. And it’s definitely an element of self-creation and self-presentation that collapses differences.

JL: I think one thing that’s very interesting about this whole phenomenon is that there’s this fascination, broadly speaking, with fundamentalist religion. And whether we’re looking at these Israeli TV shows, or The Handmaid’s Tale, just to give one example, I think there’s a really interesting issue here, which is why are people fascinated with fundamentalism, and in what ways does the representation of fundamentalist religion, however we understand it, how has this representation on TV helped people to better understand religion on the one hand and also how does it misconstrue the realities of these societies? Of course, Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale is entirely fictional, and these Israeli TV shows that represent ultra-Orthodox Judaism and Israel are based to some extent on the real-life practices of ultra-Orthodox Jews. But it just speaks to this question of how the public understands fundamentalism and sometimes doesn’t really grasp its nature. For instance, you talked about how ultra-Orthodox Judaism is actually a modern phenomenon. A lot of people tend to think of it as a throwback to medieval times or something like that. And so part of this whole set of issues is the way in which these TV shows have the capability to create empathy, on the one hand, but also to sow misinformation on the other.

SW: And I think that’s why we see a wave of shows that are starting to explore some of the darker sides of Haredi society. Because a show like Shtisel, while it is wonderful, does not get into the larger politics of gender segregation in the public sphere, which was a controversy in Israel this summer, ultra-Orthodox political parties. And there is a lot of discussion and a lot of concern about these issues. And I think what some of these newer shows are trying to do, especially in Our Boys and also I mentioned Autonomies or Autonomiot, are trying to explore some of the darker sides of Haredi life, of Haredi politics. They’re avoiding a simple sort of, “everything is bad, this is a repressive society in which people can’t express themselves” approach, something that you actually did see a bit in film in the ’90s, and trying to take a more nuanced approach. But they are, I would say, trying to put the political back in in a large sense. What have these societies led to? What have they bred? And as Israeli society shifts, what do we have to reckon with?

JL: So would you say then that if you think about the trajectory of the history of Haredim and the representation in Israeli film and TV, you talked about initially the Haredim were a joke, and then you have these newer TV shows like Shtisel for instance that represent them as being sort of a part of everyday life, which Haredi Jews are within Israel. And then you talk about Autonomies and this idea of what has been wrought, what are the political consequences of the continued existence and the power of ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel? I mean, it seems to me it sounds a lot like this question of how Israeli society at large has grappled with the fact that ultra-Orthodox Judaism has become a powerful political force. It’s no longer just a side show or something that was kind of on its way out, but it’s something that’s here to stay in a lot of ways. And I think that that’s part of what’s interesting here is that it represents this broader issue of the changes within Israeli culture.

SW: And there’s a scene in Shababnikim, in the first episode, right within the first fifteen minutes or so, in which they’re talking about a certain issue. And one of the guys says to the other, these Yeshiva guys, “We’re the story now. Forget about everyone else.” And it’s a real recognition that this is not a fringe story anymore. You cannot talk about Israel anymore without a serious understanding of ultra-Orthodox Jews and the role that they play in society. And I think it’s something we’ll sort of see a continuation and a grappling with.

And at the same time, it shows how distant the Palestinian issue is. For the sort of average Jewish Israeli, what they think about a lot more is issues of religion and state, as we saw in the election. So I think that we’ll see that reflected more and more in culture as well, especially as more religious people or people who came from religious Jewish communities enter the world of arts and culture, which is what we see now as well.

JL: And as much as some of the writers and the showrunners themselves are former Haredi Jews.

SW: Exactly. And if there aren’t, the shows will hire either Haredi Jews on the margins, more modern ones, or former Haredi Jews to help them to make sure there’s authenticity. I heard lots of stories of training via voice app memos being passed back and forth, stories of Michael Aloni listening to tapes in Yiddish to make sure that he does pronunciation right, etc. But all these means that there’s a lot more cultural exchange going on.

JL: I mean, I think it’s interesting you talk about “authenticity,” which is something that I think that a lot of productions aim for, whether we’re talking about a historical period piece or something that deals with a minority group. It’s interesting that you talk about the search for “authenticity” and the portrayal of ultra-Orthodox Jews, when as we know ultra-Orthodoxy makes a claim to historical authenticity, which we know is not exactly the case. They claim to be unadulterated traditional, ultra-traditional Judaism, the chain of tradition unbroken by modernity. Of course, we know that this is not really the case. It’s a modern phenomenon. It reflects modernity. These people are not entirely cut off from the world. But there’s this claim within Haredi Judaism, in its various forms, to being the “real” Judaism, which is why we talk about the attraction of ultra-Orthodoxy for Mizrahi Jews. And so what we see here is these two kinds of searches for authenticity that I think are really fascinating, as we try to understand the draw of “authenticity” within Israeli culture.

SW: So I think a lot of it is, one is paying attention to like details of representation. If the ultra-Orthodox were a joke, as we talked about before, you don’t have to pay attention to how the hat sits, how long the jacket is, how long a woman’s skirt is, etc. And now when you take these subjects seriously, those are the details that people want to make sure are correct. So that’s, I would say, a sort of basic level of authenticity. They want to make sure that it seems real, so to speak. Of course, what’s included in that and what’s not included in that we could talk about. But I think you’re right.

And I think in terms of the Haredi claims rate to being an authentic form of Judaism, for Israelis who are, again, interested in religion, generally speaking, Jewish Israelis, they believe this. They believe that if they want to go for an authentic Jewish practice, they need to turn towards the Haredi world. We don’t necessarily have the older generation of rebels who were steeped in tradition, the people like Bialik who were thrown out of Yeshiva, but who knew Jewish texts incredibly well. We have a newer generation that didn’t have that sort of education. And so when they want that authenticity, which again, in new age spirituality, the quest for self is huge. It’s all about the search for an authentic self. They’re going to turn to what they see as an authentic form of Judaism. And I think that’s definitely a large part of the interest in Haredi culture and Haredi society.

JL: I think it’s clear that there are different kinds of authenticity. But what’s interesting is the way in which it is a powerful draw in these different realms. And I think that it’s clear from your presentation, and from our conversation, that to understand contemporary Israeli society, we need to understand the place of the Haredi Jews as a powerful political force, as a cultural force, religious force. But then, of course, what’s interesting about this as well is the way in which understanding Haredi Jews and Haredi Jewish culture helps us to understand bigger global issues that go beyond Israel. And this is one of these issues in terms of the globalization of Israeli TV and Israeli culture, that we have people from around the world who are watching these TV shows and perhaps learning the very first things that they know about Judaism from the representation of Jews through this ultra-Orthodox lens.

SW: Definitely. And I’ve definitely gotten emails that attest to that. I think it speaks to a growing role of religion on the global stage. There was an idea of the secularization thesis, that religion would sort of fall away. We know that’s not true. We know that thesis is wrong. So I think in all forms of media, creative media, you’re starting to see a really serious reckoning with this idea of religion. And of course when you think of fundamentalism, and you could say the interests in cults—even though cult is a word that academics don’t like to use—that’s the garish, more extreme version of that. But it’s a question of how we order our lives and how we make meaning. These shows are not about theology. They’re, I would say, a Durkheimian collective effervescence of meaning making, a way of thinking about religion. It’s about the people involved. These shows are not debating fine theological points.

JL: No, but they are coming out alongside, as you mentioned, TV shows that relate to cults, whether we’re talking about—what was that TV show that came out about the cult that was based in Oregon? Wild Wild Country, or all the TV shows about Scientology, etc. It’s interesting that we see this as part of a global phenomenon and I think that part of what’s really interesting about this topic, and why I’m glad we can talk about it, is because I think that it represents one of a series of ways in which we can talk about Israel in a global context.

SW: And I think that’s really interesting. And also even speaking of Wild Wild Country. I was like, “Whoa, this is a kibbutz.” Or kibbutz-like, thinking of a model society or things like that. Again, this is why it’s so to think of these things in a global context, that if you want to teach about a kibbutz or think about a kibbutz beyond the immediate context of the Israeli experiment, you talk about what it means to set up an ideal society and what happens when inconveniently there are locals there that you need to deal with. And that’s not to draw an immediate comparison and say they’re exactly the same thing. They’re obviously not. But I think we can draw links between any sort of these utopian or utopian-leaning societies and help us learn more about how they think about themselves. And of course at least from a cinematic point of view, the pleasure when everything goes wrong. Which is the draw of Wild Wild Country. Not to mention that a lot of them were Jewish to begin with, which is an entirely separate conversation.

JL: Yeah. I know we’re mostly out of time, but I want to sort of close out by thinking about the “Fauda effect,” which you’ve talked about a little bit, this idea that basically Israeli TV shows when they’re being pitched and conceived of are thinking about the global market more so than the significantly smaller market of Israeli TV watchers. What interests me here is in what ways do you think that this phenomenon is reflective of bigger issues, bigger trends within Israeli society?

SW: So I think that the most obvious one is high tech. In high tech in Israel, the goal is to make an exit. You make your company, you develop your startup. And then you sell it to Google or McDonald’s or whatever for a lot of money. And some of these deals are now in billions of dollars. And that’s the measure of success. And an exit might mean that your entire company transfers to San Francisco. The success is taken out, but that’s the idea is this approval from the outside world. And I still think even in realms where Israel is relatively successful, the entertainment industry, the high tech industry, you can see this need for approval from the outside world that Israelis want to feel normal. It’s a similar thing with Eurovision. When Israel won Eurovision and then hosted it in Israel, the Israelis want to feel like they’re part of the community of nations. And I think this approval is something that’s really, really sought after, especially by Israelis who are not necessarily religious or observant because they just want to be like everyone else. They want to live a life that’s not constantly punctuated by conflict. If you want to take the stereotypes of the Israelis who go to Berlin, I think those are some of the things going on. But you see a real want for the really standard Zionist idea of normalization—in the Zionist context, not in the sort of Palestinian context, but in the context of wanting to be like anyone else.

JL: So you think having TV shows on Netflix makes them feel like any other country?

SW: Exactly. And if they can do it even better, that’s even better. But it’s a sign of recognition and a sign of we’re part of this, we’re part of the global community.

JL: I think for me what’s so striking about it is like you said, this relationship perhaps analogous between the Israeli high tech sector and the vision of getting bought out by the Googles and the Apples of the world, and the idea that you produce a TV show in Israel that will then get picked up by Netflix or Amazon or get remade in an American context. And I think that that’s very interesting as we think about the way that Israel, it’s people, it’s businesses see themselves on the global stage.

SW: Yeah, definitely. And especially with this HBO show, where HBO put up the money up-front and paid for a show that Israeli production companies would not be able to afford on their own is really interesting. And I think, my guess is that I think we will start to see more shows like that in which they’re sort of ordered by these major companies. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s the next direction in which things go.

JL: One final just quick question is if people want to watch some of these TV shows, what are one or two shows that you would recommend and where do people find them?

SW: This is a constant challenge, but two shows that I’m going to plug, that I think are lesser known, are: One is a show I mentioned earlier called A Touch Away, Merchak Negi’a. It’s from 2006-2007. It’s one of the first shows to deal with ultra-Orthodox Jews. And it’s about a Romeo and Juliet type story, of a Russian-speaking immigrant and his Haredi neighbor, and they fall in love. And there’s lots of drama. And I think it’s really interesting one, because it’s one of the first, but also because it makes interesting parallels between the Haredi population and the Russian-speaking population. And then the other one, which comes out of left field entirely, is a show called Juda, I think it’s still on Hulu, about a Jewish vampire. It is wacky, sort of out of this world. And I think is a really interesting merger of sort of concerns about Jewishness, about boundaries and Jewish relationship, especially to Eastern Europe and exploring the very important question of how should a Jewish vampire conduct his life. So those are my two recommendations.

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