Jerusalem Visits Scarsdale: Cast of Shtisel Comes to Westchester Reform Temple

Shtisel2Neta Riskin, Doval'e Glickman, Ayelet Zurer and Ori ElonUntil Monday September 10, only the high holidays could draw an audience of almost 900 to Westchester Reform Temple. Tickets, wristbands and tight security at the door all served to highlight the special nature of the event. With the temple parking lot full, people had to park and shuttle from the Scarsdale Pool. What brought out such a crowd?

The draw was a panel discussion with several members of the cast of the Israeli hit series Shtisel, sponsored by the UJA. Shulem Shtisel, Giti Weiss, the widow Elisheva Rotstein and the show’s creator, Ori Elon were live on the bima in a discussion hosted by WRT Rabbi Jonathan Blake.

Free of their head coverings, beard and peyot, the cast was transformed from the shtetl to Hollywood and looked surprisingly attractive. Both Neta Riskin (Giti) and Ayelet Zurer (Elisheva) are great beauties and it was easy to see Doval’e Glickman’s (Shulem) star qualities.

The characters and the show’s creator touched on the many themes of this family drama that chronicles the lives of the Haredim – an ultra orthodox sect – living in Jerusalem. They struggle to balance their traditions with the realities of modern society. Though they look markedly different from those surrounding them, their quest to find love, reconcile family relationships and to accept life and death are universal.

Neta Riskin reflected on the silent strength of her character Giti, a young mother of five who does not work or even drive at the beginning of the series. When her husband Lippe strays from the marriage while working in Argentina, she is left to fend for her family and shield them from shame by hiding his transgression. When he returns, rather than permitting him to apologize and offering him forgiveness, she refuses to acknowledge what he did and forces him to live with his guilt.

According to Neta Riskin (Giti), the cast of the show was shocked to see how successful the show became. During the filming of Season1 they often said, “no one is going to watch this anyway.” They thought no one would be interested in a show about this population – but later attributed its success to the humanity of its themes and it’s pull on the audience’s heartstrings.

The event was not without controversy. One man in the audience asked about the Haredim – what would they say about hosting a large event at Westchester Reform Temple? The response from the show’s writer was “No, No.” The questioner asked if the show romanticized a population that holds the reform Jew movement in contempt. He said, “I don’t want to support a community that negates my way of life.” However, the program made clear that the UJA does support the Haredi community with funds for educational enrichment, employment services and skills training.

Though at times the audience struggled to understand the cast through their heavy Israeli accents, the actor’s warmth and humor filled the room. Everyone left with a smile, anticipating more Shtisel in Season 3.