Jerusalem- When Israel’s version of the Emmy Awards were announced in late 2009, the mainly secular entertainment establishment received an unexpected jolt as “Srugim,” an off-beat series about the trials and tribulations of religious singles in Jerusalem was tabbed “Best Drama” on Israeli TV.
Ironically, “Srugim” (which means “knitted,” as in knitted or crocheted kippot) did not air on Israel’s three major commercial channels but on the increasingly popular YES satellite network.
To make matters even more interesting, “Srugim” was helmed by a first-time prime-time TV director, Eliezer “Lazy” Shapiro, the religious son of American parents who made aliyah from Philadelphia way back in 1969. Today, Shapiro makes his home in Karnei Shomron.
“Srugim” follows the story of five 30-something singles in Jerusalem, some of whom have been married and divorced, who find themselves increasingly frustrated by the local dating scene as well as the various social and religious boundaries they face as they grow older.
Shapiro discovered that “Srugim” touched a nerve with both religious and secular singles in Israeli society as well.
“A wide spectrum of Israel’s religious society reacted to the first season in an almost obsessive manner,” Shapiro told The Jewish Press.
“Some singles told us we had made a series that literally copied their lives, while more frum people, who aren’t supposed to have a TV to begin with, claimed we depicted things that were a chillul Hashem.
“We aspired to show all the characters with their flaws, because no one can identify with someone who’s perfect. Some of the characters go through religious crises and must deal with the boundaries of halacha. These things are real and happen every day.
“On the other side of the coin, the reaction from secular Jews was equally amazing. Many people told us we had shattered the stereotypes they grew up with about religious singles and discovered a whole new world, where the social mores and codes are different. Which is why some religious viewers told us we had actually created a kiddush Hashem for secular society.”
As the number of viewers grew along with positive reviews from TV critics, the YES programming department realized it had an unusual hit on its hands and immediately asked Shapiro and his production associates to start preparing for a second season. Filming on season two commenced last summer and ended in early September. YES will start airing the new episodes beginning next week.
Shapiro is proud of having broken stereotypes about religious singles in Israeli society while creating a fascinating TV series that has no need for provocative scenes to generate ratings.
“We have been able to create a popular series that still retains a bit of 1950s innocence, which is almost unheard of today,” he said.
“This is not to say we won’t deal with thought-provoking issues during the course of the second season. We will. As in any ongoing series, the characters become more dynamic and complicated. We deal with Jewish identity, relationships, the Ashkenazi-Sephardi cultural and religious mix, etc. I can tell you that by the end of the second season, one of the characters gets married.”
“Srugim” has had an impact on the actors who portray the various characters. Unlike Shapiro, nearly all the cast members are secular. Ohad Knoller, who plays Nati, a handsome doctor who has yet to understand his own emotions when it comes to relationships, said, “Israeli TV has never explored religious singles, which makes this series unique, so I’m actually not surprised it has become successful.
“I am secular, but through the Nati character I have been able to understand religious society.”Steve K. Walz