The future for Israel looks alarmingly grim. Festering contempt has led to a brutal civil war between the devout Orthodox and secular libertarians and a towering wall divides the country and its people.
Finally, the two-state solution has been realised, but in a way no one dared to imagine.
Except for Shtisel writers Yehonatan Indursky and Ori Elon, who present this alarming dystopian vision of the promised land in their new series, Autonomies, which is now available to watch at ukjewishfilm.org.
Set in a time around now, the cosmopolitan, all-embracing city of Tel Aviv looks familiar, but the writers have turned it into the capital of the coastal secular state, while making Jerusalem a Charedi autonomy, where poverty is rife and prayers are seldom answered.
You need a visa to travel between the two areas, and border guards search vehicles for illegal contraband hidden among boxed corpses needing an Orthodox burial.
All of this plays out beneath the shadow of the grim wall, which was not erected by the prop department.
“It is the wall separating Israeli Jews and Palestinians,” confirms Indursky, who is the series director, and is troubled that the real wall is there for any visitor to see.
“We have become normalised to the separation barrier, which is sad,” says the former yeshiva scholar who, with his co-writer, has put Israel’s cultural and religious divide at the heart of Autonomies, knowing many Israelis believe the fissure between Orthodox and secular is more destructive than the Palestinian conflict.
Coming up with a project after the success of Shtisel is as tough as the next album for the hit writers who met in a succah in 2008.
By then Elon, who was raised a religious Zionist in a West Bank settlement, had graduated from Ma’aleh, Jerusalem’s film school, and was writing for the TV singleton series Srugim (now on Amazon), which was also produced by Shtisel’s Dikla Barkai.
Outside the succah, Elon and Indursky and – who quit yeshiva to study at the Sam Spiegel film school – exchanged books and screenplays, acknowledged a shared religious upbringing and united to create the poetic dialogue and characters in Shtisel.
The strictly Orthodox family saga first screened in Israel in 2013, so the rest of us were late to the party, but there has been less delay with Autonomies, which screened in 2018 and grew out of two ideas.
The first is the two states. The second is inspired by the judgement of Solomon and brings action and heartbreak to the heady mix of earth-shattering confessions and parenting.
“My grandfather was a Supreme Court judge and had a famous case involving a custody battle with two parents and I have always had a connection with that story,” says Elon, hinting at what lies ahead.
To reveal anything else would be unthinkable for these writers, who know how their audience doesn’t mind waiting for something more.
READER OFFER: Jewish News and UK Jewish Film is offering the first 50 readers a chance to see the entire series of Autonomies for free! Visit ukjewishfilm.org and enter the code JNUKJF50. If you aren’t lucky enough to be among the first 50, use promo code 10OFF to receive 10% off rental of individual episodes or the entire series.
Who’s Who in Autonomies
Broide (Prisoners of War star Assi Cohen) is a Charedi wheeler and dealer who smuggles porn and pork. He escapes the wrath of the rabbis by delivering books, but his survival depends on meeting their demands.
Rabbi Alexander of Kreinitz (actor-singer Shuli Rand) heads the Charedi autonomy with the will of a Mafia godfather shrouded in Orthodoxy.
Blumi (Beauty and The Baker star Rotem Sela) Broide’s patient wife and mother of his children lives in fear of his money-making schemes.
Elka (Tali Sharon) is Rabbi Alexander’s soul-searching daughter forced to face the worst kind of moral dilemma.
Anna Blum (Daniella Kertesz) is a secular saxophonist who meets Broide and her attraction to him leads her down a dark road.
Batia Luzzatto (Dana Ivgy) and her husband Asher (Fauda’s Jacob Zada Daniel) are about to divorce, but a shock revelation changes their plans.