Which Of These Israeli TV Shows Tops Your List?
What is it about Israeli TV that is so appealing to a global audience? In the past two years, several highly rated Israeli shows – most of which originally aired in Israel a few years ago – have made the top 10 on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming platforms. Is it because we feel a strong connection to the actors since we see the same 10 of them in every show? Or is it that we only see the best of the best Israeli TV shows, such as if viewers abroad could only watch Breaking Bad and Seinfeld as a sampling of American TV.
Editor’s Note: How can you watch Israeli TV in the USA? You can watch Israeli tv shows online free with major streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO Max. Most of the Israeli tv series below are subtitled.
Thank you to Gail, my mom, professional PR writer, Temple president and TV enthusiast for contributing this guest post to B’nai Mitzvah Academy.
Israeli TV Shows on Netflix
You could say that the entire trend was kicked off by the most unlikely of shows with a name almost no one can pronounce. Imagine a TV series about an ultra-Orthodox Heredi family in Jerusalem where the dialogue is all in Hebrew and Yiddish and the sexiest scene in the entire series revolves around a portable heater. Shtisel took American TV viewers by storm last year, reaching massive audiences even among non-Jews who were charmed by its story of broken family relationships. In just two seasons, Shtisel became the topic of sermons and mah jongg games across America, and launched a massive run on Israeli TV shows among all the streaming services. Due to its wildly surprising success in the USA, the creators and cast have gotten together six years later to recreate the Shtisel angst – Season Three is scheduled to air in Spring 2021.
If family drama is not your thing, there’s always Fauda, an action thriller about an elite undercover unit in the Israeli Defense Forces that fights terrorism. The show’s star, Lior Raz, is also its creator and has woven together an exciting yet often violent storyline where every episode is a cliffhanger. It’s truly the definition of something bingeworthy, so once you start, be prepared to stay up all night. The show’s third season took a different approach and presented much of the drama from the Palestinian point of view. Fauda is a story of survival, both for its individual characters as well as that of a nation. Season Four is on the horizon and with Season Three garnering a million views in 48 hours, it’s safe to say we are among many eagerly awaiting its return.
Where Heroes Fly
Take the star yeshiva teacher from Shtisel, shave his beard and dress him in trendy clothes – you will have the actor Michael Aloni in Where Heroes Fly, another action thriller about a group of former IDF war buddies on a rescue mission in South America. Aloni is not the only Israeli actor you’ll recognize in this fantastic mini-series that addresses drug addiction, the horrors of PTSD, and the general effects of war on nice Jewish boys. Again, it’s like the same 10 Israeli actors take turns starring in these fabulous shows, sometimes acting as the good guys and sometimes the villains. The real fight going on here is if Where Heroes Fly is better than Shtisel; personally, I’d have to say no but this show is certainly tops on many viewers’ list.
The talented actress Shira Haas stars in Unorthodox, the plaintive story of a young woman seeking escape from the confines of Hasidic life in America. Unorthodox offers an almost shocking glimpse into one of Judaism’s strictest sects, the Satmar Jews of Brooklyn, a group fairly unknown to many American Jews. To be honest, Unorthodox is a German-American production, not Israeli, but since it’s the first Netflix series to be streamed in Yiddish, we just can’t omit it from our roundup. It is filled with Israeli actors who tell an intimate story of freedom and sacrifice that has reached beyond Jewish audiences. In fact, Haas was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie for her work. And just to come full circle, Haas was the granddaughter in Shtisel.
Another favorite Israeli actress, Ayelet Zurer (of course, also in Shtisel) stars in Hostages as a prominent physician whose entire family is taken hostage in a political situation with seemingly no way out. You’ll see some of the guys from Where Heroes Fly in this one, too. The storyline is actually pretty clever and was even replicated by a US version that was cancelled after just one season. One note: I usually find the kids in family hostage situations to be annoyingly clueless and merely set ups for furthering the plot. However, these kids are actually helpful and propel the suspense in an exciting way. Hostages is a two-season show, with every episode a total cliffhanger. Thank goodness for streaming; I don’t think I could wait a week between episodes.
Israeli TV Shows on Amazon Prime
Srugim is sort of the Israeli version of American pop culture TV classic Friends, about a group of Modern Orthodox singles who live and work in an area of Jerusalem known as “the swamp,” referring to the young professionals living in close proximity whose biggest career goal is finding a husband or wife. The title, Srugim, means knitted in Hebrew and refers to the less strict kippah that these Modern Orthodox wear – they are not black hatters like our Shtisel friends. In fact, like all 30-somethings, our Srugim friends grapple with finding their place in society; in this case, it’s the balance between modernity and their own version of Orthodoxy. The show runs for three, fairly long seasons and I have to confess I was really sad to say goodbye at the finale.
The Baker and the Beauty
Before I rave about the rom com The Baker and the Beauty, I have to let you know that it doesn’t end well. In reality, it doesn’t end at all. No one told me this before I began the show and I was mildly crushed at the last episode. Production seems to have lots of gaps: the show’s first season aired in Israel in 2013, and the second season in 2017 with a huge cliffhanger. There have been rumors of a third season in production, so let’s cross our fingers. Ironically, a remake of The Baker and the Beauty was brought to US televisions last year by ABC – only they are Cubans, not Israelis. The original Israeli show features many beautiful people and it’s a classic story: a fabulously wealthy woman meets a charming baker. And you can guess the rest.
Israeli TV Shows on Hulu
Imagine waking up one morning to discover that the national media and your government has accused you of a heinous, violent crime, along with a group of conspirators that you’ve never even met. That’s exactly what happens to five random strangers in False Flag, another Israeli thriller where the action never stops. This show will take you on an exhilarating ride filled with constant twists and turns through the world of Israeli intelligence, international politics, and family dynamics. Who is lying? Who is innocent? Be warned that you will never really know until the finale.
Prisoners of War
If you enjoyed Carrie and Saul in Homeland, you may want to watch the Israeli show that it was actually based on: Prisoners of War. While the plot is completely different, the seat-gripping tension is just the same. Prisoners of War details the tragic aftermath of three IDF soldiers who were captured and held as prisoners for almost 20 years while on a secret mission in Lebanon. This original version was created, written and directed by one of Israeli’s finest, Gideon Raff, who co-developed the American version. This is truly fine drama, with superb acting and a storyline that will keep you guessing. Be warned, however, that Prisoners of War is very graphic in its depiction of torture. There were many scenes I simply could not watch.
Israeli Tv Shows on HBO Max
Our Boys is also painful to watch. And controversial. It’s the story of a real-life murder of a young boy in 2014 that sparked a summer of brutal violence in the Gaza strip. The show has been assailed by the Israeli government and lauded for its realistic portrayals by others. Our Boys is the saga of two families and two communities that implode due to grief, loss, sadness – all in the search for a justice that will never come. This is a 10-episode miniseries.
You can’t get more un-Borat like than Sacha Baron Cohen in the amazing drama, The Spy. Gripping, dramatic, finely acted – this show tells the incredible story of famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was a key player in Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency during the years leading up to the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. This six-part miniseries is really a must-watch for anyone that is interested in history, the spy game, Israel, or just how phenomenal of a dramatic actor Cohen is when given the right material. Helpful tip: don’t look up Eli Cohen before you watch.
Have you streamed any of these Israeli tv shows? Which was your favorite and which are you most looking forward to watching next? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check out the other posts on B’nai Mitzvah Academy!