There was a 10-day window in the filming schedule between the first and second episodes of the fifth season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and Caroline Aaron (also known as the lovably no-nonsense Shirley Maisel) knew this was her chance. She could finally — and for the first time — board a plane to Israel.
The opportunity came when she was asked to audition for the role of Babshi in “Chanshi,” an Israeli comedy series created by and starring Aleeza Chanowitz about an Orthodox woman from Brooklyn who ditches her fiancée to live out her wildest dreams in Israel. Produced by Kastina Communications for Israeli network HOT, it is premiering on December 4 and there have been discussions about broadcasting it in the United States.
Aaron’s agent mentioned a show in Israel “and I went ‘yes,’” she recalls in a telephone conversation with The Times of Israel. The agent warned that conditions and pay wouldn’t be stellar. “I said, ‘Okay great, let’s do it!’”
No matter the working arrangements, “Chanshi” would conveniently deliver Aaron to her lifelong best friend, Elki Jacobs, who immigrated to Israel in 1979. Aaron had been wanting to visit Israel since Jacobs moved 43 years ago — and, as it turned out, the HOT series would also be their first opportunity to act together since they met as aspiring young actresses in 1977.
The first play Aaron ever performed in after college was “The HOT L Baltimore,” in a small theater in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Many of the cast members rode a bus there together from New York, and when Jacobs was the last to board, the only available seat was the one next to Aaron.
“I’m telling you, it was instantaneous,” Aaron remembers. “There was my best friend.”
The two clicked and got closer back in New York. In the background was Jacobs’s long-distance relationship with an Israeli boyfriend she’d met at drama school in London, theater director Amit Gazit. Jacobs knew he’d never leave Israel.
Via telephone from her home in the Negev, Jacobs says that Aaron “went through the whole confusion with me” about whether or not she should make the move to Israel. Ultimately, she married Gazit in 1980, a year after immigrating.
“I picked myself up from Central Park West to Shikun Vav in Beersheba, with no telephone and no lines. It was a major change,” she says.
Jacobs and Aaron stayed good friends in the decades since, but their lives took very different paths. Aaron moved to LA and built a successful acting career, working with Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, and Woody Allen (among others). Jacobs acted for about 10 years after moving to the Negev Desert and then built a thriving event design business. Still, the two remained deeply connected, seeing each other whenever Jacobs was in the US visiting family.
There was always talk about Aaron visiting Israel, and she wanted to, but it never ended up happening.
“I have two children, I’m an actress, I just never had an extra $10,000 to be able to make it work,” Aaron says. “It’s like, as you know when you’re a parent, being at the back of the line at the water fountain. But when it comes your turn to take a drink, somebody always cuts in line.” Every time Aaron wanted to buy tickets, she says, somebody needed braces, private school tuition, or something else.
She finally had concrete plans in 2001 — and then 9/11 happened. She had another trip scheduled for 2020, but then the pandemic hit. So when “Chanshi” came along, Aaron was willing to do whatever it took to get to Israel.
There was uncertainty about whether it would mesh with the “Mrs. Maisel” filming schedule, with ongoing negotiations between the two productions teams. “I really begged,” Aaron admits.
It paid off. In late February, Aaron flew in for a whirlwind 8-day trip to Israel to film “Chanshi.” She and Jacobs reunited as friends — and as actresses.
“The opportunity to play best friends, as best friends, in this place that was my home that she had never experienced — it was just amazing,” Jacobs says.
Aaron wasn’t the only Hollywood star making a debut visit to Israel while working on the show. Her co-star Henry Winkler (better known as The Fonz from “Happy Days”) was a first-timer, too.
“We are the two Israeli virgins, and we fell madly in love with the country,” Aaron says. In their three days off camera, the actors toured Caesarea and Jerusalem.
Even when back at work on the fifth and final season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Aaron crossed her fingers that “Chanshi” would be successful enough to bring her back to Jacobs and Israel.
“Hopefully there will be a second season!” she says.
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