Shtisel-Season 3-Four Episodes In


We don’t make shows like this in America.

In America, your problems are always secondary. You’re told to be thankful that you’re one of the haves as opposed to the have-nots. Lucky you were born in the greatest country in the world. Of course, people are starving in Europe.

Although they aren’t anymore. But this is what I heard growing up. That’s why I had to finish everything on my plate. Last week it was reported that the average American wastes $3.50 in food every day. Why is our entire nation focused on what we put in our bodies? On one hand, chefs are exalted and cooking shows are triumphant, on the other we keep hearing that we’re eating all wrong, too much, and now we’re throwing it all away?

And it’s impossible to do it right. According to everybody else. You’re eating meat, you’re not eating meat. If you just don’t eat this one thing you’ll be healthy, why is everybody in our business when the truth is they don’t care about us?

Yes, your problems reside in the backseat, if they’re in the vehicle at all. Your tribe is more important, the fight between the enlightened and the ignorant. And now they’re demonizing private schools. Let me tell  you, even though I’ve got no kids, there’s not a parent alive who doesn’t want the best education for their kid, and if they can afford it, they’ll pay for it. I went to college where 45% of the students came from prep schools, and believe me they were prepared, they made me feel like I’d stayed at home reading comic books while they were getting educated in the classics. I thought you pronounced “Celtic” like the basketball team.

That’s another thing an elite education will teach you, how to interact with elite players. You’re sitting at home, believing you can make it if you try, but the truth is you probably can’t, because not only are you unaware of the game, you don’t understand the mentality of the players. I’ll give you a tip, if you meet someone famous…DON’T TALK ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS, DON’T TALK ABOUT WHAT MADE THEM FAMOUS!

But those who’ve been through the system always look back and tear down their exact experience. Which is a head-scratcher, you taught at the elite private school, now you want everybody to go to public school, why didn’t you teach in the public school to begin with?

And I went to public school, but that’s not the point. The point is the only truth that remains is your own, your personal truth. And I’m not talking about the big issues, the economy, I’m talking about your emotions, your choices, chances are you get no direction. And if you get direction, it’s heavy-handed. David Fishof told me he started his rock fantasy camp for doctors, they’re the biggest customers, they spent their whole lives doing something they didn’t want to. Really, they just wanted to be musicians, but their parents wouldn’t approve, and the path was not clearly delineated and the truth is most people would like to be told what to do rather than have to figure it out for themselves.

Like the super-religious.

That’s what “Shtisel” is about, the ultra-orthodox living in the modern world, trying to resist its temptations as they walk a path established for millennia. Orthodox Jews do that in America too. Education is focused on the Torah, not on math and social studies. You have a zillion children. And the government is your safety net. Makes me crazy when other Jews make Jews look bad. Then again, they’ll say they’re saving Judaism, and they may be right, intermarriage in America, the western world, is putting a huge dent in the Jewish population, Judaism just may fade out of its own accord, wouldn’t so many people be happy if it did.

But the Shtisel family lives in Israel. And the Shtisel family doesn’t want to tell everybody else how to live, they look down on everybody else, they just know how they and their tribe live. And you can try to leave, but years of indoctrination, life in the cult, will have you coming back. You yearn for freedom, but you can’t tolerate it. And that’s not only in religious families, think about all the dreamers who just can’t leave their hometown, they’re stuck in a rut, being who they were always supposed to be.

So, Akiva doesn’t fit the mold. Do you know what it’s like not to fit the mold? You feel the blowback everywhere. You can be the teacher’s pet, they dig that, but question authority and you’re out, you’re a troublemaker, even though all the Silicon Valley titans were rulebreakers, it’s part of the American ethos, to think individually and push the envelope, it’s astounding that so many people want to keep us mired in the past.

And you can have a parent who says they care about you, but really cares only about themselves, unless there’s a crisis. Shulem is focused on his job, as headmaster of the cheder, the school, it’s his complete identity, and when it is jeopardized…you cannot take away a man’s job, it’s defines their essence.

So, Akiva lives on emotions and it’s constantly getting him in trouble. He’s late to marry, but he wants a love match. Nobody else gets a love match! And at what age do you become betrothed? When you’re still in school, assuming, if you’re female, that you’re in school at all. It’s scary just to watch, you get married, start having kids, how are you supposed to feed them?

And they may not be endlessly studying, but the women are the heart of the family. The men can’t live without them, and although the wives are supportive, they end up making the final decisions, pushing the family forward.

But all the issues of humanity don’t evaporate just because you’re religious. Nukhem is depressed by personal loss, he can’t get off the couch. Hopefully you’ve never been there, too many have. And Racheli Warburg is rich, really rich, but it doesn’t solve all of her problems, she’s got nobody in her life, and your money won’t make you happy.

And Akiva can’t detach from the past, never mind move into the future.

Ruchami gets married to get out of the house, she gets almost no attention from her young husband who is constantly studying, but she wants what she wants, and that’s…a baby.

Nechama reconnects with her childhood love, their affection never waned, it resided in the back of their minds, just waiting for reignition upon running into each other again.

And people hide the truth, from not only others, but their spouses.

These are all the issues people have, all over the world.

Parents want the best for their children, which might not be the best for the kids. Parents are worried about image. Children are told what to do but can they ever break free?

And finding someone to love… If there were arranged marriages would there be so many mass shootings? Too often they’re perpetrated by those who can’t get laid. What if they could? But we live in a society where you’re either a winner…or everybody else. And if you’re everybody else, you’re ignored and told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. How exactly do you do that again? I couldn’t have a long term relationship until I went to see a psychiatrist. How could I? I was constantly teased by my family, told what to do, no one satisfied them, and my father was anything but a man’s man, anything but a bro. If anything, my father was the anti-bro, chastising the groupthink and baked-in elitism of the bros. Yes, there are hierarchies not only in business, and if you’re not a member of the group, you’re forgotten. Akiva? Just marry someone and work at the cheder, that’s the family business, everybody else does what they’re told, puts their mind on hold, how come you can’t?

“Shtisel” came back for its third season this week. The last one was five years ago. Things have changed, not only in situation but age, people look older, more mature. And it’s been the highlight of my week so far. Because I’m yearning for truth, I’m yearning for the personal, I’m yearning to relate. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be all about, reflecting ourselves back at each other? You’re not gonna get that in “Peaches,” Justin Bieber’s juvenile new song:

“I got my peaches out in Georgia (Oh, yeah, sh_t)

I get my weed from California (That’s that sh_t)

I took my chick up to the north, yeah (Badass bi_ch

I get my light right from the source, yeah (Yeah, that’s it)”

And you know how many people it took to write that? Can anybody identify with those words? At best they’re aspirational, but really they’re just cartoon dreck. Yet, “Peaches” is #1 and is lauded by all music outlets. It’s like we live in a disinformation society. Same deal with TV shows. Everybody watches what is served up to them, by the network, cable outlet or Netflix algorithm. You can research to find out what’s great, but that’s too much effort, even though everybody lives on their mobile all day long.

Brian Wilson had it right over fifty years ago. He sang about being in his room. We all live in that room. You can hang with your bros, but at some point you’ve got to retire to your bed, what goes through your brain then? Or do you do your best to shut it off, with a mantra, or affirmations, or some other third world wellness b.s.

Yes, there are tons of people who will tell you how to live your life. But the challenge is if YOU can live your life, if YOU can make your choices. Most people are too scared to do this.

Everybody’s the same. No matter how rich or poor. We’ve all got the same problems, and we’re all told our problems are irrelevant, don’t amount to a hill of beans, that we must focus on bigger issues. But first world problems are just as significant as third world problems, if you’re living in your body and are aware. And the truth is you can never shut off your mind, just can’t be done.

The best art draws you in, you meld with it. You don’t watch it, you feel it.

I feel “Shtisel,” and the worst thing is in five episodes it’s gonna end, then what am I gonna do?

We’re all looking for that hit. And despite the plethora of information, of options, it’s very hard to find that connection, that stimulation, that feeling that makes you warm inside, that has you cracking a smile, opening your mouth and saying ahh…

Chances are you can’t relate to the “Shtisel” situation at all. Chances are you’re not Jewish, and chances are if you are Jewish, you’re not super-Orthodox.

But that’s irrelevant, you’ll connect with “Shtisel” just as much.

Art is best when it’s about people. And their truth.

Like “Shtisel.”

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