World's Strictest Parents: Israel episode


By Miriam Shaviv
November 16, 2009
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I know I'm a few days late with this, but just before everyone starts talking about Dispatches, here are a few thoughts on The World's Strictest Parents: Israel, which I caught last week on BBC3.

Essentially, I disliked the Sha-ked (what's with the pretentious spelling?) parents, who were hosting rebellious British teens Gemma and Jack in their Nof Ayalon home. 

The Sha-keds are religious, and live in a gated community near Modi'in, in which there are pretty strict communal norms, for example in the area of modest dress. Now, I have no problem with them asking the teenagers to dress appropriately while they are in their house - that's partially what they are there for. But what annoyed - even frightened - me was the Sha-keds' repeated insistance that Gemma, in particular, has to dress more modestly because that is what others expect. At one point, Mrs Sha-ked even told her that while she is in the Sha-ked household the family will be "watched closely" - so she better behave. Later, when Gemma sunbathed outside, Mrs Sha-ked complained to her husband that she was being publicly humiliated.

I found this unrelenting emphasis on conforming for conformity's sake highly suffocating - and I was watching from the safe distance of my London home. What is worse, it had nothing to teach the teenagers. Here was the perfect opportunity for the Sha-keds to explain to Gemma and Jack something about self-respect, about modesty. And all they got was: "But what will the neighbours say?"

Presumably, the Sha-keds conform to the communal norms because they believe in them. But the Sha-keds seemed incapable of explaining this (at least the way the programme was cut).

And while I give them full credit for their calm manner (they also seemed to have very aidel children - shame they got almost no screen time), I was not impressed by the way Mrs Sha-ked tried to kick Gemma out when the argument didn't go her way. Again, it seemed to be about conformity - not about teaching the kids a better way to live. They could have done so much better.

COMMENTS

Phoenix

Tue, 11/17/2009 - 18:56

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Miriam

I also watched this programme and can agree with some of your comments. However, is conformity not a very necessary thing for Orthodox Jews, in order to maintain the purity of their religious customs and culture? Certainly they are very quick to point out any infringement, as was the recent case with the JFS.

I think that the main achievement of the parents was to turn the two teenagers away from their inward looking self-indulgent attitude to one in which the outside world and relationships with others became of at least equal importance.

The emphasis on conformity did not surprise me for another reason, without strict rules and pressures to conform to them would Judaism have survived as long as it has?

I think that the other children were probably struck more or less dumb by extreme culture shock!


Chani

Tue, 11/17/2009 - 20:18

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As someone in the know (I am the Shaked's neighbor), I must clarify some misconceptions you formed as a direct result of the BBCs butchering. From the start, the Shakeds meant to include the community as a positive presence. Over 100 hours of film was shot that week, including many examples of the neighbors delivering dinner, partying around a lag b'omer bonfire, loaning the teens clothing from the "Clothing Gemach", strolling with the teens around the neighborhood, and throwing them a good-by party where they showered the teens with personal blessings. None of these clips made it in. What did make it, unfortunately, was a line that Tzippy was "fed" by the director regarding "the community authorities." Taken out of context, it leaves an incorrect and imbalanced representation of a community that smothers and rejects, but does not embrace and accept. You couldn't tell from the final cut, but the clothing issue was only a small part of the week, and was addressed primarily on day one. After that, there was little reference to clothing until Day Five when Gemma deliberately "punished" Tzippy by appearing OUTSIDE in a bikini. Seven hours of unshown screaming and cursing by Gemma preceded her eviction. Over the week, there were many sensitive and intimate conversations between Gemma and Tzippy filmed -- most of which involved the values of self-respect and modesty -- but they did not make the cut. I agree that the Shaked children are aidel. And well-behaved. There were many heart-warming scenes of the children interacting with the teens. The best was on Sat. night, when they had a jam sesssion: son on the piano, daughter on the harp, Jack on the guitar, and Gemma laughing with another daughter on the drums. You won't see that on tv. I spent Shabbat lunch with the family. There were no cameras, and the relaxed atmosphere was joyous and the mutual affection, genuine. Jack and Gemma spent a couple of nights hanging out with the teens in the neighborhood, once returning at 2 am. Each expressed amazement that there was no drinking, drugs, loud music, smoking, interaction between the sexes, or violence. The powers to be at the BBC didn't think those comments were worthy of representation. The scene of Jack and David in the cabbage patch was actually a charitable venture. Jack's t-shirt reads: Table to Table, which is an organization that sends food baskets to the infirm and elderly. Volunteers pick produce in fields that donate their crops to the organization. David explained that charity is a fundamental virtue of Judaism and that's why the family is out volunteering that morning. We don't hear that. Instead, the narrator drones: "More farming..." The family spent one morning on donkeys, sheparding with local bedouins who are friends with Tzippy. Arabs and Jews friends? Not on the BBC!
I could go on and on...


Miriam Shaviv

Tue, 11/17/2009 - 23:11

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Thanks for clarifying, Chani. Unfortunately the editing is always an issue in any programme where they need to reduce hours of footage into a few minutes.


iainlrabbak

Wed, 11/18/2009 - 11:06

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We have only Chani's word that things were "lost in the editing". From the programme, tho, is it any wonder that the first thing the naughty kids asked for when they returned to the UK was bacon and eggs?


Marcus Dysch

Wed, 11/18/2009 - 11:40

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Chani - I'm sure everything you say is quite right, but if anyone really thought the programme would be edited in such a way as to show only positives and not the hyped-up clashes between the family and the teens then it suggests the Sha-keds had not seen the show before or understood its nature.

When I interviewed Jack for our story, admittedly some months after his return from Israel, it was quite clear he was a perfectly decent lad, polite, understanding, respectful. As is the way with almost every reality show, some scenes are staged and the editing process is such that only the most controversial scenes are used to fit the storyline. Presumably in Big Brother they spend 23 hours a day doing nothing, one hour arguing, and that's what's shown. No doubt it was the same here.

Iain - I didn't think the teens were that 'naughty' at all really. They were pretty reflective of British teenagers I thought. And actually Jack's mother offered him the bacon. Why would he say no back at his own home?


iainlrabbak

Wed, 11/18/2009 - 11:49

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Point about the bacon taken, Marcus. However, I was being flippant using the term "naughty". The term I would have used might have offended the readership of what is a family newspaper.


Phoenix

Wed, 11/18/2009 - 14:21

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Chani
Your positive comments do not surprise me. My experience of meeting Orthodox Jews during my son's conversion has been positive. Obviously the religious authorities have to be careful about the sincerity of those they admit but ordinary Jews seem generally to be kind and welcoming. At a party held to celebrate my son's conversion the people there were genuinely pleased that he had finally made it after several years of trying.
As far as the effect on him is concerned, he has matured and become a more balanced and self-disciplined person. He seems to have acquired a taste for intensive study and has started an Open University course.
Bacon is definitely not on the menu!
I have also met many Israelis from time to time and many of them have a zest for living that we do not meet often in this country.
It is just a shame that they live in a land that other people think is theirs and are prepared to fight for.


alexanderward

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 11:57

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To be honest, I think the spelling is so that people who are not used to Hebrew or Jewish names don't pronounce it as "shaked" as in the past tense of the verb "to shake." Sha-ked breaks it down, into a more phonetical way.

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