Netflix is giving religion a run for its money

I soon found that Netflix is full of yiddishkeit but it was a Turkish delight that taught me most

December 22, 2020 13:35

If 2020 is remembered for anything — other than what the Chasidic comic Yoely calls The Unprecedented — it will be as the year we discovered Netflix. And that means Chasidim, too. Yoely, in one of his Youtube monologues, mentions that glatt-frum Jews are allowed by some rebbes to watch Netflix during The Unprecedented to stop them going out of their Talmudic minds.

Yoely wears the full black hat, beard and sidelocks and speaks pure Williamsburg, which is a weird amalgam of English, Yiddish and euphemisms so abstruse you need a degree in care home ownership to fathom what he’s hinting. His vids have been going round shuls like Pfizer stand-up jokes and in a few Covid months he has become the #1 media maven of the street minyan WhatsApp. Yoely’s best line? “You have to open the synagogues,” he tells Governor Cuomo. “If I have to spend one more day with my wife, I’m gonna rip out my payos.”

Sadly, and at the risk of losing half my readers, I must inform you that Yoely is not all he seems. According to reliable dark net sources, Yoely is a former investment banker at Merrill Lynch. His name is Mordechi Rosenfeld, Modi to his friends and he’s a regular on the New Jersey stand-up circuit. Take it from me, he’s an expert – especially on television.

Yoely is crazy about The Crown. He recognised the Queen as “the rebbe of England” and is thrilled that she is not only powerful but dresses modestly. “You can put her in any haimishe neighbourhood and she gonna fit right in.” As for the pearls, you couldn’t get better on 47th Street.

Yoely was a major factor in hooking me onto Netflix. Before Yoely I was ambivalent about the network for personal reasons. My novel The Song of Names was made into a rather good film that was released in the US, Canada and many other countries, but not in Britain where cinema owners choked on the Jewish content like a gefilte-fish bone. So instead of showing daytime at the East Finchley Vue, The Song of Names went straight onto Netflix and from there, I assumed, to oblivion.

But then along came The Unprecedented and everyone from Scientologists to Stamford Hill wives was putting in long nights of lockdown on Netflix, watching The Song of Names in numbers that could hardly have been higher if it had won ten Oscars. Out of gratitude, I took out a subscription.

There was one other stimulus. A Russian friend, a professor of physics, told me I had to watch The Queen’s Gambit. Never doubt a Russian about a vodka or chess. They don’t get these things wrong. The Queen’s Gambit was by far the best television of 2020, bar none.

I soon found that Netflix is full of yiddishkeit with Unorthodox and Shtisl, but it was a Turkish delight that taught me most about the state of the Jews. The drama series is titled Ethos, a name that gives nothing away. The Turkish title, Bir Başkadır, means ‘something else’, or ‘the other’. Either way, the story is a sofa-gripper.

Peri, a female psychiatrist in an Istanbul, hospital receives a new patient, a girl called Meryem who fainted at work. Meryem wears a full headscarf, prays five times a day and commutes from a village on the outskirts of the city. Peri, modern and academic, regards religion as obsolete. She has never met a practising Muslim and feels affronted by the ease with which Meryem spans both worlds, cleaning the apartment of her playboy employer and deferring in her personal decisions to the village Hodja, or priest. Peri’s closest colleague, she discovers, has a sister in a headscarf. All of a sudden, everyone around her is grappling with the return of medieval superstition.

Sounds familiar? In Israel, a once-secular state is heading over the course of the next century to have a religious majority. Where did these blackhats come from, Israelis ask themselves, and how is it that almost every family now has someone who has gone over to “the other”?

In England, where Jews adopted an indigenous reasonableness about religion – jolly nice singing so long as you don’t take the words to heart – middle-road Jewish families are now living with one child or more who has gone full-length skirt or beard and expects everyone else to adopt dietary and sabbatarian restrictions. God, proclaimed dead by the Beatles, is back on Abbey Road with an eruv and a giant menorah. Three-times-a-year Jews have children who are three-times a day. The conflicts of Ethos will feel awfully familiar to JC readers and the outcome uneasily irresolute.

Still, don’t take my word for it. I’m not shilling for Netflix. The JC should hire Yoely as its TV critic.


December 22, 2020 13:35

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