I remember when I was a teenager I would go to the Rochester JCC every month to watch the monthly screening of an Israeli movie. It was these monthly events that I really began learning about Israeli culture in a real 3-dimensional way. During these programs, I learned of programs in Israel that I later participated in. I remember waiting for these events every month, getting there early so I could grab a bowl of my favorite Israeli snacks and a nice, comfortable spot I could curl up in to watch the movie.
In the summers when I would the Israeli staff or co-participants in the programs I would be in, I would impress them with the number of Israeli movies I had seen throughout the years. The Israeli movie nights are a memory that are super important to me, and create a sort of “safe space,” or maybe it’s better to call a “safe memory,” that I will always hold very dear. I continued this tradition through university by creating Israeli movie nights with the pro- Israeli student group on campus and taking a course at Tel Aviv University, where we watched Israeli movies to address different issues in Israeli society.
But besides giving me that important memory, Israeli movies and television are important for everyone when wanting to really understand what Israel and her culture is really all about. It reflects the issues Israel is facing at any given moment. They address not just the political issues we so often hear about on the News, but also social issues, religious issues, historical issues. By watching movies and television shows we can get a fuller picture of what is really happening in Israel. So, the following are some of the top Israeli movies and TV shows I recommend watching:
Mifaked Sababa is an Israeli classic.
It tells a story about a commander in the army who somehow can’t get anything right, but despite that everything works out for the better. It stars Yosef Shiloach, an Iranian- Israeli actor. Shiloach moved to Israel in 1950 and was famous for movies similar to Mifaked Sababa.
I remember the first time I saw the movie. Classic Israeli movies are often played on Israeli TV during the holiday of Passover. I got to crawl in a comfortable chair with a bag of chips and get to understand a bit of Israeli culture. And now, when I’m talking to some of my Israeli friends I understand the cultural references from this movie. One such example is when Yosef Shiloach says
“My stomach is tied in knots!”
In a heavy Iranian accent. Now many times when Israelis have a stomachache, they’ll say the same line in the same accent.
The Band’s Visit…
is a movie about a philoharmonic band from Egypt who comes to Israel to play at the opening of an Arabic Cultural Center in Petach Tikva. However, because of the Egyptian’s band head’s accent they end up in a town called Betach Tikva. It is funny, it is charming, and it is just a fun movie to watch. The Band’s Visit became such a hit internationally that it became a Broadway show! It was one of the first Israeli movies I remember seeing at the many Israeli movie nights I attended or planned. Israeli movies are common events in community centers, college campuses, and other venues because Israeli movies are a great way to connect to the culture of the country. My friends and I loved curling up to watch these movies and get insight to Israel’s lifestyle and current issues.
The first Israeli movie I watched in Israel was Walk on Water.
I was on a youth group trip in Israel, and one evening once returning to the hotel, we watched this modern Israeli classic. Starring Lior Ashkenazi, it addresses the issues the State of Israel faced with Nazis of World War II’s Holocaust and how to cope with that legacy.
While it may sound like a heavy and serious topic, the movie really finds a good balance between finding a glimmer of humor and address a very serious issue. The characters in the movie succeed in creating complex relationships that really reflect real life as we experience. And the movie shows that life really isn’t black and white, but rather there is a lot of grey area that we must cope with.
Noodle is one of my most favorite Israeli movies ever!
It’s about a little boy from China whose mother gets caught by the Israeli Immigration Agency and his journey with a nice Israeli family working to reunite him with his mother.
It addresses the issues of people coming from East Asia on work visas and what happens when their work visas end while they are still in Israel. The Israeli family calls the little boy Noodle because he doesn’t know to answer them when they ask what his name is in Hebrew.
It’s a very sweet movie, and the little boy is very cute. But I think part of why I love this movie is also because I LOVE Chinese food—I could it three times a day if I could. AND there are a lot of scenes with Chinese food in this movie… including noodles. 😊
Asfur was the first Television show in Hebrew that understood.
Asfur is about a group of friends who live in a plot of land that was once owned by one of the friend’s grandfathers, and their adventures to keep the land from being sold out from underneath them. There are a number of famous Israeli actors in the show, such as Shalom Michaelshwilli, Oz Zehavi, and Amos Tamam.
Many times people ask how long it took me to learn Hebrew and what I did to learn the language that where helpful. I give them about three suggestions that really helped me:
- Insist Israelis speak with you in Hebrew and not in English.
- Quietly repeat after the recordings announcing the bus stops on the bus (quietly so people don’t think you’re crazy😊).
- Watch a lot of Israeli TV shows and movies in Hebrew… even better if there are no subtitles in English.
That third suggestion is relevant for us now because Asfur was the first Hebrew language I watched with absolutely no English subtitles. I felt very accomplished and developed positive sense memories of this show (even though it is only two seasons).
Yellow Peppers was the second Israeli TV show I watched in its entirety.
It tells the story of a family who lives in southern Israel with an autistic son, and the challenges they cope with. It’s a raw TV show that doesn’t shy away from the challenges the family faces. In its two seasons to starts from the family’s shock at the diagnosis and ends with them finding peace with the joys and blessings that they have in having each other.
This show was incredibly important in my opinion. It portraits the challenges of autism as they are in real life. It brings the topic to light, instead of leaving issues like this one in the dark. What that does in return, is positively affect people to talk about these things, to respect people who have autism, and allow people with autism to have a voice. In our divided world, allowing an ‘other’ in and voice their experiences is so important in uniting us as people, as human beings.
Traffic Light, or Ramzor as it’s called in Hebrew…
Was such a success in Israel that American and Russian networks bought the show.
It’s about three high school friends who are now adults. The married friend represents the red light. The engaged friend represents the yellow light. And the single friend represents the green light of a traffic light. Through the three seasons, the show follows the daily struggles, joys, and struggles of the three friends.
Written by Amir Miller (who plays the engaged friend), the show was incredibly popular in Israel. People quote it in daily conversations, or sometimes bring up their favorite scenes or episodes. It won the Israeli TV Academy Award in the category of best comedy series in 2010. It was the first Israeli TV series to win an international Emmy award for the best comedy.
Yossi Vasa writes and stars in the show Nesbu.
It follows the life of an Ethiopian man married to a causcasian Israeli, and their adventures as an interracial couple. It explores the joys and pains of what that means and what it means to be Ethiopian Israeli today. This show’s two seasons were another huge, international success. In September, the American FOX network bought show. In the 2018, International Emmy Award ceremony, it won the best comedy series.
And guess what?! I also have a connection to the TV show and the main actor, Yossi Vasa!
The ‘80’s is a TV show about just that… the 1980’s.
The writer, Shalom Asiag, also stars in the show. He tells the story of being a teenager to immigrant parents from Morocco in Israel in the 1980’s. While Shalom Asiag plays his father, his son, Daniel Asiag, plays him. It shows the melting pot of Israel in the ‘80’s, and how Jews from around the world and lived in the same neighborhood. And they do a pretty accurate job in portraying how life was like for immigrants in the ‘80’s here in Israel.
AND… I was an extra in the show!! Even though it was only one episode, and technically only one scene, it was pretty fun and exciting. So when you watch it, keep your eyes open during the episode with the soccer match.
I also saw the actor, Shalom Asiag, twice shortly after I was an extra in the show. I had found a job in the same building where his agency is located. He took the elevator up to his agency while I was on my way to work. Apparently, famous actors are treated a little bit differently in Israel because no one seemed to notice him except for me.
I may have written about what feels like a lot,
but this is just a small fraction of the movies and TV shows produced in Israel. There are many more to discover, there are many shows that are the basis of American TV shows. This is just a list to start with. So, hurry up, grab your popcorn, your bissli, or your bamba. Wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket and get watching. I promise you, you will make memories similar to the ones I made when I grew up watching Israeli movies!