Shtisel’s Zohar Strauss headlines on the Izzy Stream
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Shtisel’s Zohar Strauss headlines on the Izzy Stream

Brigit Grant zooms in with the star of Magic Men to learn more about his life, work and lots of Lippe

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Zohar Strauss
Zohar Strauss

As one of Israel’s most coveted actors, Zohar Strauss can afford to be picky about roles. The former law student (he went to Leicester Uni!) considers a character’s journey before accepting a part and his plaudits for playing the hard-bitten mission commander in Lebanon; Eyes Wide Open’s confused Orthodox butcher and the estranged son in Magic Men are a testament to his talent and smart choices. 

Which brings us to Lippe Weiss. As fans of Israel’s treasured family drama know, Shulem Shtisel’s son-in-law, Lippe, is notable only for his absence in season one. So did this discerning actor think twice before signing up to play a character who gets banished to Argentina in the first 45 minutes, only to reappear in the penultimate episode?

“Yes, I did,” says Zohar, on cue. “Initially I thought, ‘I’m not gonna do it’, but then the writers, Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky promised me Lippe would evolve in season two and that resolved it. Taking the lead in scenes is more important than having a leading role, and Lippe, though not a main character, has a unique story and his exit paves the way for his family’s journey in the drama.”

The challenge when interviewing a star from a (my) favourite show is avoiding the minutiae for fear of boring non-Shtiselites. Of course we talked about Lippe’s opportunism and the naming of baby Zelig for cash in season two, but the burning question has always been South America, as whatever happened to Lippe in Argentina has stayed there. Until now. 

Zohar Strauss as Lippe

“Lippe loves his wife Gitti [played by Neta Riskin] and cares about his family,” says Zohar, who has teenage children with Effie, his teacher wife whom he met at drama school. “For my part, I believe he seriously loves Gitti and there was no other woman in Argentina. He is not that guy.” 

A conversation over Zoom presents its own challenges – frozen screens/poor sound quality – but could this really be true? “If Lippe did have someone else, it was one night when he was drunk and out of his head. He wasn’t running away from Israel, he was running from his life because he couldn’t handle it. But he did not find a new world in this different place. So he came back.” 

Understanding human psychology beyond Shtisel not only informs his acting, but provided Zohar with the foundation for his other business.

Zohar Strauss in Lebanon

Born out of a late-night drink-imbued exchange with his brother-in-law, the actor offered to help with a business pitch to a big client. “He was worried he would blow it because of stage fright and that and performing to large audiences is what I do every day. So I offered to help.” 

From this and 15 years’ experience teaching drama at his alma mater – Tel Aviv’s Yoram Loewenstein studio – Zohar launched the Aman-da Method, which provides the corporate world with tools in presentation and communication. The company has been a blessing in lockdown as he was able to transfer his on-camera skills to Zoom, coaching teachers and companies as, like all actors, his other work was cancelled until further notice. 

The farce about Israeli intelligence has been “put in the closet”, and it’s the same for the repertory production, Angina Pectoris, which has been running for four years. “I play a liberal American doctor treating the prime minister who needs a heart transplant, but his own new law stops him from taking an Arab’s heart,” Zohar explains. 

Zohar Strauss as Lippe Weiss

That the role of PM belongs to Dov Glickman the life-giver to Shtisel’s patriarch Shulem illustrates the close ties between Israel’s top talent. More like the gathering of gifted brethren than a cast assuming roles, Zohar’s Instagram posts on set reveal him as the joker in the pack. 

“To be authentic in the role, I use opposite forces. So I am a little bit childish; before the director says action as in life when you try to be serious, something messes it up.” 

Zohar takes the fifth on Shtisel season three, but confirms Lippe is ring-fenced for the fourth. His faltering fathering of daughter Ruchami (Shira Haas) continues to be a compelling strand in the story and, in part, reflects his own parenting style with 17-year-old daughter, Or. 

As he explains: “Lippe listens and relates to Ruchami, but not just as a father. I’ve never been scared of my children’s thoughts and feelings, but I understand Lippe because I did not erase my character in order to be a great father. 

“When I supported myself as a waiter after graduating from acting school, I carried a tray on my left hand and managed everything else with my right. I always say that I grabbed my daughter with my left hand, but still lived with my right. If I’m content in my career and success, that’s the best example I can give my children.” 

Like most of Zohar’s performances, it’s a summation worthy of an Ophir award. 

Zohar Strauss stars in the film Magic Men available exclusively on the Izzy Stream  

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