Shtisel, Season 3, Episode 1 – Alternative Reality

שטיסל, עונה 3, פרק 1

Reviewing the first episode of the third season of Shtisel

In the last episode of the second season of Shtisel, which aired about five years ago, Kiva and Libby were about to get married, and since the new season was known to jump five years ahead, it made sense for the viewers to expect they would get a glimpse into Libby and Kiva's family life at the beginning of the third season, and they do get it right from the first scene of the episode, until it turns out at the end of the episode that things are not what they seem to be.

Shtisel is not a series built on twists, regular Shtisel viewers love this show because of its ability to paint characters sensitively and pinpoint emotions, not because it provides moments of shock when it turns out that everything the viewers thought turns out wrong. The seventh episode of the second season did provide a short twist in which it turned out that a child Kive was speaking to and drawing during the episode was just in  Kive's imagination and was not really there, but even then the twist came in order to shed a light on Kive's mental state rather than to show the series' ability to provide surprising twists.

Because of this, the series' twist in the opening episode of the third season was even more surprising. Who could have imagined in advance that being exposed to a certain spoiler about the episode could really ruin the episode's viewing experience?

This episode's twist is built on making the viewers believe in a certain reality until it turns out that they are actually watching a different one, but the beauty of this episode is that changing reality is not only a technical tool that effect the viewers point of view, it is also a content, and not only viewers experience a reality change,  the main characters also experience it.

Take for example the plot of Sucher (Issachar) and Nechama Yuktan.

We first met Sucher, Deborah's brother, in the first season of Shtisel as an unlucky lottery seller who once canceled an engagement and fled to the army, and then became Mizruchnick (Someone who is considered a less religious Jew than Charedi). Since then he has been living in loneliness, suffering from sleep disorders, that were probably caused by some trauma that was not really talked about in the show. In the fifth episode of the first season Shulem said that Mrs. Weinstein, the one whom he didn't marry then, was already marrying her grandchildren while he was still alone.

Now Sucher and Nechama Yoktan pop up at Shulem's house door, reminding him that he was the one who was guiding Sucher while he and Nechama were engaged before the engagement was cancelled. It is not likely that Sucher has cancelled in his past two engagements to different women. But if  both names Weinstein and Yuktan indeed refer to the same woman, it is hard to tell if the difference in last name is the result of her being married at the past or the result of bad continuity, because the episode did not show any evidence of her having a large family like it was hinted in the first season, but she was wearing a wig which means she could have been married in the past.

Anyway, as we said, the reality of Sucher and Nechama changes without warning, throughout the episode it seems to both of them that they get the chance to turn back the wheel, she meets him at the lottery booth by chance, and feelings from the past float again, bringing her back to the booth to send more lottery tickets than she planned to. She even wins the grand prize of three million shekels. They get engaged, tell the family, and begin preparations for the wedding and allow themselves to get used to the thought that luck is finally in their corner until it turns out that bad luck remains bad luck, and instead of a wedding we get a funeral, the funeral of Sucher who finds his sudden death in his bed.

נחמה יוקטן
Nehama Yokatan, Stisel Season 3, A Vered Adir photo courtesy of yes

While the change of reality in the plot of Nechama and Sucher is significant in terms of its results, for some of the other characters in the series the change of reality is more significant in terms of their actions, because these are characters who were sure they were doing everything right, but then it turns out that the world has changed, or that reality is not what they thought, and they suddenly find themselves at the "wrong" side, where what they thought was right and necessary is not what the world really expects of them at all.

Yosale, the son of Giti and Lippe whom we last saw in the 11th episode of the second season when he took pity on an outdoor dog, and was temporarily expelled from the yeshiva because of it, grew up between the seasons and is now a successful 19-year-old yeshiva boy. The matchmaker Kenisberg thinks it's time to find him a match, and she arranges a date for him with a beautiful and pious girl named Shira Levinson.

Yosale is not interested in meeting women, he is in his first year at the yeshiva, and he wants to concentrate on his studies at least until the fifth year, but the rabbi at the yeshiva tells him that he is the type of person who can manage both studying and dating even in the first year, so after failing to find a partner who would let him off the date in the yeshiva's rabbi, he lets his father drive him to his date, but on the way he shares with his father that he goes only because he respects his mother, he still thinks of concentrating on his studies at the yeshiva. His father tells him he hopes the woman he meets will be the one and that he will want to marry,  because the less girls he meets, the less he will have to compare and the happier he will be in his life.

Yosale and Shira on Blind Date, Stisel Season 3, Episode 1, Rafi Daloia Photo courtesy of yes

And here Yosale comes to the meeting, and it exceeds all his expectations, the girl is handsome, they have a good connection and in addition, he can also feel good with his enthusiasm for her, because it fits his mother and father will. This is what everyone wants from him. Until it turns out the next day that it isn't. It turns out that  "entertainment from the land of entertainments" happened as Menucha says, and the Shira he met was not Shira Levinson, but another Shira. After that things are starting to get a little less entertaining, because Yosale is serious regarding the Shira he met. He claims he is in love. but Giti is not willing to hear about it.

 In Giti's mind Yosale is the one who until yesterday did not even want to go on dates, it does not make sense that he has already developed such deep feelings for a girl he just met after only one meeting, it is not possible for Giti to accept that reality has changed so much between yesterday and today. Lippe offers a compromise , He will find out who is the girl Yosale met, maybe it will turn out that she is also from a good family, and it will be possible to continue this match to everyone's satisfaction, and when he does so another question of changing reality is revealed. It turns out that the Shira that Yosale met is Shira Levy, from the Levy family whose origin is from Algiers. 

Lippe claims that it is a different generation now, and that they are all Jews, and they should not insist on marrying only Ashkenazis, but for Giti there is nothing to talk about, she does not accept that reality has changed and for her to do what should be done means to be faithful to her ancestors. "I want this family to be able to do one thing properly by the book, one thing properly, is it possible?" She tells Lippe, demanding that he will not tell Yosale that he managed to find the girl he met with. And when Lippe does as she says, Yosale decides that if his Shira can't be found, he prefers to go back to his original plan of focusing on Torah study, he is not interested in matchmaking right now.

But Yosale doesn’t really loose hope of finding the Shira he met and he even goes to the Western Wall to pray for God to help him find her, and his prayer is answered, because he meets her by chance immediately afterwards, and then he also finds out that his father lied to him, telling him he did not find her family when he did. It hurts him to know that just as it hurts him that his family's refusal to continue the match was painful to Shira, but the revelation also makes it clearer for him that now he should only listen to his heart, and not to any other "must" or "should". He wants to give Shira his phone number and asks her to call him at the yeshiva and ask for Yosale from year one. Shira is not sure she should keep in touch after the refusal her family received, but also sees that it is hard for her to refuse Yosale who she really likes, and maybe that is the reason that when she does not find any paper to let him write his number on, she lets him be the one writing the number on her hand, And does not write it herself, because something in her seems to tell her, after the insult of the initial refusal, That he should be the one to show his interest and commitment before she takes any active action on her part towards him, of course this way of hers also contributes to him feeling even closer to her. After all, he almost touched her hand.

שטיסל עונה 3, פרק 1
Yosale is being told he was wrong, Season 3, Episode 1, Photo of a Vered Adir courtesy of yes

Yosale is not the only one who has thought he was doing the right thing and discovered that the world thinks he is wrong, a similar thing happened to Shulem, his grandfather, this episode.

At the beginning of this episode we find out that the Heyder (class in the Talmud Tora – Charedi school) Shulem manages is in debt, and Shulem is organizing a "Diner", a dinner for donors. Shulem is very stressed about it, as he explains to Ruchami, who now works as his secretary, that regular donors are not enough, the Heyder needs donors at the level of a "Nagid", which means a donor that when asked for a donation of 100,000 takes a million out of his pocket to give.

During the preparations for the evening, he is asked to come and restore order in the chorus of children who rioted and stole the conductor's stick. He hits the child who stole the stick and tells all the children to reflect on the actions and think about what they were doing wrong. Only then to his surprise he discovers that the one who was wrong is him. The generations and natures of human beings have changed according to Rabbi Weinbach's, and "Whoever spares the rod hates his son" is no longer an acceptable way of teaching, so Rabbi Weinbach requires him to submit his resignation from the Talmud Torah and announce his retirement during the Diner or he wouldn't be able to prevent the child’s parents from complaining to the police, the same parents that Shulem was so sure the day before that would be on his side about their child’s education that he demanded the child not to return without both parents to class.

Shulem is a combination of both stubbornness and flexibility, at first he thinks of bargaining with Rabbi Weinbach, he is ready to go with the spirit of time, from now on there will be no more flicks or shticks he says, begging the rabbi to at least allow him to end the year but Rabbi Weinbach is not compromising . Then, just when he is about to change his sermon for the Dinar, that he worked so hard to prepare, with a farewell speech from the Talmud Torah, he receives the news of his brother in law's death and it turns out that one person's bad luck is another person's luck. Thus at Diner time, when Rabbi Weinbach and his friends think Shulem is about to retire as they told him, and raise a white flag as is the custom of the nations of the world when they declare their defeat, Shulem reveals the winning card he was hiding in his sleeve. He is opening his own Talmud Torah, "Torat Issachar" in memory of Sucher, his brother-in-law, courtesy of Nechama Yoktan. Talmud Torah that will not succumb to the foreign winds that blow in ultra-Orthodox society and demand that he resigns from running his Heyder on false pretenses, according to him. What this means for the future flicks and shticks in the Talmud Torah that he will conduct is not clear yet, What is clear, however, is that Rabbi Weinbach and his friends are very dissatisfied with the student recruitment propaganda for the new Talmud Torah that he is conducting at a dinner that was supposed to be a fundraising for their school. This reality caught them unprepared.

Shulem and Rabbi Weinbach, Season 3, Episode 1, Photo of a Vered Adir courtesy of yes

However, the person who finds himself most unprepared to deal with the changing reality of the episode, is of course Kive. 

In the first scene we see him drawing Libby, demanding her not to move even an inch, not even at the sound of their baby crying. As someone who last saw Kive at the end of last season drawing his late mother after dreaming about her, it excites me to discover that he and Libby named their daughter Deborah, after her. Also, for me the interesting debate between Kive's parents' attitudes about the crying of babies he tells Libby about, adds to the sense of warmth that the scene evokes. His father argued that as long as there was no danger it is not terrible to let the children cry a little, that way they would not turn out spoiled, while his mother claimed that the greatest danger is the feeling that no one cares about you. The whole scene seems full of warmth and love, and there is only one strange thing about it, the fact that Libby expresses her sorrow that she can no longer breastfeed the baby.

Later in the episode it turns out that Kiva did not pay rent for several months, which immediately makes one think that Nuchem probably did not reconcile with Kive's marriage to Libby in the end, since in the ninth episode of the second season he promised to give Kive and his daughter the apartment he inherited from his mother. His going back on his promise is understandable since Kive also did not fulfill Nuchem's conditions, he does not work for him, and he did not abandon the painting, so it is not hard to imagine that Nuchem was petty with the new married couple and wouldn't give them the apartment he promised.

The rent debt causes Kiva to ask his father to help him with the money. Shulem refuses to help him financially but offers his son to come and live with him. It seems a little strange that Shulem's does not ask what Libby will think about his offer though. It also seems strange that he demands Kive will start taking care of himself and not sit and pity himself all day, because what reasons could possibly be for Kive to pity himself all day?

Kive could have managed to pay his rent if he was willing to sell the paintings in which he painted Libby, but he is not willing to accept the lemonade the world offers him as his father says, he does not want to part with these paintings and in the evening in conversation with Libby, he even demands that she will not allow him to sell them, even though she claims they're just paintings, just paint on canvas, he claims that the paintings are all there is.

Only in the evening of the exhibition in which Kaufman presents the paintings in which Kive painted Libby, do we find out from Kaufman's speech that Libby passed away eight months ago, and suddenly everything makes sense; why Kive thinks that the paintings  are all there is, why he does not want to sell them, why Libby can no longer breastfeed her baby, why she was not at Sucher's funeral, and why Shulem did not ask her opinion when he suggested Kive they would move in with him.

Even though the revelation of Libby's death, that has reached the viewers in complete surprise, was known to the heartbroken Kiva throughout the episode, Kaufman's words about her death seem to hurt him as if he too hears them for the first time too. It seems as if he is forced at that moment to accept the fact that she is no longer with him and that he only imagined her presence throughout the road.

The exhibition for Kive the dreamer, is like a wake-up call, he returns home and calls a taxi to take him to his father's house, he decides to accept his father's offer and move in with him.

It is not entirely clear if this means that he refused the money Kaufman put in his pocket for the picture of Libby on her wedding night, as we have not yet heard where the pictures will be transferred to after the exhibition ends, but from the fact that with that money he could have afford to pay the rent and choose to return to his father instead, it is a reasonable to believe that he did decide not to sell the paintings. And when Kive arrives at his father's house, we have no choice but to also come to terms with Libby's sudden death and get used to the new reality

קיווע ובתו דבורה
Kiva and his daughter Deborah, photo of a Vered Adir courtesy of yes

It can be said in conclusion that the first episode of the third season managed to build a twist that is both true to the spirit of the series, as conversations with dead people have taken place in it since the first season of the show, and also fits into the overall theme of the episode miraculously . However, even though we had some sensational revelations about what happened in the time that passed between the second and third seasons, we still have gaps to complete and questions that should be answered like:

* How did Libby pass away?

 * Do Ruchami and Hanina have a hard time becoming parents?

* What is the cloud hovering over the Weiss family that Menucha Kenisberg talked about saying that they what they have vomited the other people had not yet digested?

And speaking of Menucha and digestion, I was just wondering if when she sat down to eat at Giti's restaurant and ate the Harrain without a blessing, was it because she is not that strict about saying blessings or was it because she eats all day non-stop and therefore blessing the food in the morning blessing is enough for her till the end of the day.

Hopefully the following chapters will answer all of our questions even though there are likely to be questions we have to come to terms with the fact that we will never find their answers…


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