The Israeli TV series “Shababnikim” swept the comedy prizes at this year’s Israeli Academy for Film and Television Awards, winning best series, best director, best screenplay and best actor. It has also set Israel abuzz with talk of a new window into ultra-Orthodox society.
Readers of The Times of Israel can come and see what all the fuss is about at the English premiere of the first two episodes, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Wednesday, May 30.
The show’s story begins with three rebellious roommates in a Jerusalem yeshiva who are asked to accommodate a brilliant student whose geekiness is messing up his chances of getting married.
Creator Eliran Malka grew up in a religious family in northern Israel, but it wasn’t until he moved to Jerusalem to study at the Ma’aleh Film School that he first encountered the shababnikim, the bad boys of the yeshiva world, roaming the streets of the capital.
“I started to see all kinds of people that I’d never seen,” Malka told The Times of Israel’s Jessica Steinberg in a recent interview. “Yeshiva boys involved in Western life, dressed well and with cigarettes. I’d never seen that anywhere else.”
“For people outside, it seems like a fantasy,” said Malka. “I wanted to love these characters, to make them look good, but real, as well.”
Malka’s fascination with this slice of ultra-Orthodox society blossomed into a TV series that struck a chord with the Israeli public, who were perhaps also intrigued by the ability to straddle the yeshiva and secular worlds.
“Shababnikim” now takes its place alongside “Srugim,” “Shtisel,” “Kipat Barzel” and other acclaimed dramas noted for their convincing portrayal of Israel’s multi-layered religious communities.
Writing in The Forward, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt noted that Malka’s “portrait of the yeshiva world’s social hierarchy, in all of its complexity” is “something rarely if ever portrayed on the Israeli screen.”
“Gone are the monastic apartments, the harsh lighting, the dirty streets of Mea Shearim, the ratty suits, the terrible wigs,” she observes.
“‘Shababnikim’ is funny, whimsical, and cutting. Characters can be dicks,” observes Karen E. H. Skinazi in Tablet. “Stylistically, Malka trades soft-lens nostalgia for Tarantinoesque dark, even violent, comedy.”
Exploring the Haredi world in this way – albeit through comedy and some pretty unlikely situations – can help bring Israel’s splintered communities to a greater understanding of each other, says Elchanan Poupko, rabbi and president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network.
“In a divided world in which we interact so little with people different than we are, this is a game changer,” Poupko wrote in a recent Times of Israel blog. “Israeli TV producers have done a great service to the Jewish people by helping bridge the divide between religious and secular Israelis, an opportunity for better mutual understanding could not be overestimated.”
Malka and his producers are now working on a second season. Join us on May 30 to watch “Shababnikim” for yourself.
Episodes 1 & 2 (English subtitles)
Times of Israel Presents, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Jerusalem Press Club
Wednesday, May 30 at 7:15 p.m.
Tickets NIS 60 (NIS 50 advance) HERE
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