Israeli media is widely perceived as staunchly secular if not outright anti-religious, but a new television series depicts a couple who make tshuva – i.e., go from living a secular life to becoming religiously observant – and portrays the process in a positive and compassionate way.
The series, Mekimi, is being aired on the HOT cable television network, and is receiving quite a lot of media buzz. It is based on a bestselling autobiographical book by Noa Yaron-Dayan, who was a young media figure in the 1990s when she made tshuva.
Promotional videos for the series feature the slogan – “Don’t look for G-d; Let Him find you.”
Reviewers are not all happy with the product.
Haaretz complains that the depiction of secular life is vulgar, “in the tradition of descriptions by people who made tshuva.” Parts of the first episode “look like a cross between a infomercial for proselytizers to Judaism, and a commercial for [anti-drug abuse NGO] Al-Sam. The television world in which the heroine works is rotten and immoral, and the young culture – drugs, Kurt Cobain and people named Johnny – is not simply depressing but deadly.”
Entertainment website City Mouse also says the way secular life is presented is full of clichés. Alma, the central female protagonist, is a television presenter whose ratings-obsessed producer compliments her by telling her that her show received peak viewing despite being aired after a terror attack that killed dozens of people. In another scene, one of the young women at a trance party dies of an overdose. “The process [of tshuva] appears forced and too abstract,” the reviewer opines. And yet, he says – if the chemistry between Alma and her husband Ben improves in the next episodes – “there is a chance that Mekimi will fulfill the ‘buzz’ that was promised.” He adds, tongue in cheek: “If worse comes to worst – we’ll make tshuva.”
Channel 2’s website says Mekimi fits “the highest standards of television, certainly as far as what is possible in Israel.” The storyline, it says, can elicit identification “in almost every satisfied-but-hungry western person.”
Lilach Voloch, the reviewer for Walla!, says that some people will watch Mekimi and see only “light and hope and comfort,” while others will see “a gaping trap.” She also thinks the series does injustice to the secular world. In episode 2, she says, a secular boy marches down the street screaming over and over again – “whoever fasts is an idiot.” The series is “missionary,” she states, “the agenda is thrust in our faces.”
Ilan Shaul of Israel Post says Mekimi is “one of the best” Israeli mini-series he has ever seen, “if not the best.” There is “no holier-than-thou and self-righteous proselytizing in it, no evil characters and saintly ones. There is no huge ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel, and no pitch darkness at its beginning. There are lost people, life sized, like you and me; secular, en route to tshuva and religious ones, who are lost in a world of blurred identity, which places landmines under every step, gives no one a discount and erects a sea of question marks, and not one exclamation mark.”