‘Netflix haredi-style’: Israel’s ultra-religious set up their own home entertainment in wake of corona

With live shows impossible due to the pandemic, one company came up with an idea of a way to bring kosher culture into the homes of the ultra-Orthodox.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

What do you do if your kids are barred from going to school or have to stay at home during the summer instead of traveling because of a pandemic, yet have no computer or even a smartphone to keep them – and you – from climbing the walls from boredom because your ultra-Orthodox (haredi) lifestyle doesn’t allow it?

Keshet Productions, an advertising agency that specializes in the haredi world, found at least one solution, according to Israel’s Channel 13 News. A team put together a flash drive with 60 hours of drama, comedy and children’s shows by the biggest names in the ultra-Orthodox entertainment world that reflected the values of its viewers.

It’s a haredi version of Netflix, as the news report said.

“The choice was either to close down, because going to see performances was now impossible, or completely re-create ourselves,” said Keshet manager Nechemi Batzon.

Their “channel” answered a huge need, she explained.

“When corona hit, haredi society found itself in a huge crisis. In contrast to secular society, which essentially got served all their culture through media when there were no longer any live performances, haredi society found itself in a predicament. We didn’t have a way of providing access to haredi culture into their homes.”

The disk-on-key has separate folders for men, women and children, although all are family-friendly. The shows are quite up-to-date, with the coronavirus, for example, discussed with puppets for the little ones, and excoriated through humor for the adults.

The heavily religious city of Bnei Brak has also come up with a solution for the vast number of families who do not own a computer.

“One of the issues we raised is developing content that can be accessed via a phone line,” said Shlomo Benziman, head of the Community Cultural Department in the municipality. Listening on the phone “is acceptable to the entire public,” he continued, “and in the first month over 200,000 residents accessed this phone line, for a total of more than four million minutes.”

The entertainers whose livelihoods have taken a sharp downturn over the past six months greatly appreciated the special production.

“The summer is our most fruitful period every year,” haredi actress Sari Yonat explained to Channel 13.

“So much of the haredi public only sees us onstage, in person…. A secular entertainer during corona can still make a living from television, and keep connected to his audience on Zoom and Facebook. But for female haredi performers, most of our audience isn’t in those places, and doesn’t even have access to such places. So this disc-on-key gives us artists basically the only chance to make some money and reach our audience.”

Batzon sees a possible silver lining in the corona cloud due to the popularity of this entertainment initiative.

“Corona has given a huge message to the haredi sector,” she said. “It’s permissible to bring kosher culture into the home. I think it’s a new era in haredi culture,” he said.