Weekend Stream: This Israeli Drama About Orthodox Singles That’s a Lot Like ‘Friends’

Welcome to “Weekend Stream,” where every Friday, Darian Lusk — comedian and writer living large in Brooklyn — will gently recommend something new and exciting to stream, listen to or play over the weekend. Follow him on Twitter @eatpraylusk to send suggestions for future installments.

Srugim. Abut-Barkai Productions/Hulu

Hello from Israel! Or as the locals say, “shalom” or “respect my wife.”

I’m here for my younger brother’s destination bar-mitzvah (about to be a very hot trend, mark my words). During our stay, we chartered a van and explored the homeland, visiting the Dead Sea, McDonald’s — a much more high-end establishment where a big mac is called a Big America — and even some ancient Roman ruins, during which a couple walked by me and said, “now we can say we’ve done one culturally immersive thing on this trip.”

That couple’s positive attitude rubbed off on me, as I couldn’t leave the homeland without consuming an Israeli television show.

Luckily I stumbled upon Srugim, a show that feels a lot like Friends if all of the Friends were Orthodox Jews. The drama, which ran from 2008 to 2012 on Israel’s Yes! cable network, was something of a phenomenon here in the promised land. One Zionist rabbi even put the show under religious ban. Why? Well, “srugim” means “knitted” in Hebrew, a reference to the skull caps orthodox men wear. This show was one of the first — and maybe best — to fully portray modern orthodoxy on TV. While it offended some inside the community, it proved to be successful as it provided insight into an otherwise insular world.

The easily digestible drama, now on Amazon Prime in Hebrew with English subtitles, follows five attractive Jewish singles in the big city, well, the old city; Jerusalem. Fast approaching the big 3-0, each is searching for their “bashert” — or soulmate in the eyes of G-d. No pressure.

The three female leads are already friends (two are roommates): Reut, a high earning accountant, Yifat, a mature graphic designer and Hodaya, a religious studies student who ironically struggles with her faith. The two male leads are roommates too: eligible doctor Nati and recently divorced grammar teacher Amir, who loves to correct his friends’ grammar. Classic bit! In the first episode, two of these characters, who were childhood friends, run into each other at a speed dating event. Thus, the two friend groups are united and the series is given its first cross-episodic romantic plotline.

Srugim is not about Haradim, the type of Ultra-Orthodox Jews who populate, say, Ditmas Park. And it’s not trying to make a point about them, or religion in general. Modern orthodoxy, as you quickly learn, is much more like being an Upper West Sider than a character from Yentl.

As you may gather even from the show’s pensive intro, the characters of Srugim go through the same larger-scope issues as any respectable situational drama: finding love, maintaining friendships and realizing aspirations. But instead of moving in together, the next big step from dating is getting married, and everyone cares about what synagogue you belong to instead of what gym. And yes, they wear slightly more modest outfits.

What’s most impressive in Srugim is how these religious rules are used as a plot-driving arsenal. Sometimes for comedy, like not getting home in time from a one-night stand to do morning prayers. Other times, it’s to show us that underneath these traditions are deeply human characters. Amir is recently divorced and has trouble finding dates as a result, as divorce is frowned upon in orthodoxy. Accountant Reut is having trouble finding a traditional Jewish suitor who isn’t intimidated by her success. Many orthodox men don’t want to earn less than their wife. Finding love in a tradition-oriented and marriage-oriented world is hard. As we sit back and learn about this culture, you can’t help but relate too.

Other great things to stream this weekend:

On Showtime:

Twin Peaks — Fire Walk with Me: The film sequel to David Lynch’s beloved cult TV show is the perfect thing to watch just before the show’s reboot hits Netflix. Though be sure to watch the show first. I didn’t do this and it was a huge mistake. (Added April 1)

On Netflix:

Bill Nye Saves The World, Season 1: Bill Nye has a new science-meets-current-events show on Netflix that even has a theme song penned by Tyler The Creator. The show will dispute anti-scientific claims and myths which is important right now, so let’s tune in. (Added April 21)

A Nightmare On Elm Street: It doesn’t have to be Halloween to enjoy the film that kicked off Freddy Kruger’s reign of terror. Co-starring Johnny Depp in his first role, this film is a classic that gave us all fear going to sleep. Though the sequel is more gay (and amazing) this is essential viewing. (Added April 1)