Top Ten | What to Watch on the Web
When it began, the web series was the open mic night of the internet. Anyone with a camera could post short, TV-show-style videos on sites like YouTube. Beloved for their simplicity, lo-fi style and do-it-yourself aesthetic, web series took on the feeling of their medium—the internet of the early 2000s. Now, a web series can be a couple of friends making five-minute YouTube videos; it can also be a team of professionals with a high production budget. Technically, Netflix’s original productions—everything from House of Cards to Orange Is the New Black to Stranger Things—also count. So while many web series stick to their low-budget roots, any episodic video series produced for the internet can claim the title.
As the medium matured—and the number of web series grew—a subgenre of Jewish web series appeared, which now includes a mix of serial storytelling, comedy and documentary. Here are some of our favorite Jewish web series available today.
Soon By You
When David and Sarah, both Modern Orthodox Jews, meet on a blind date, the two hit it off instantly. But within minutes, they realize there has been a misunderstanding: David was supposed to meet a different Sarah, and they’re on the wrong shidduch dates. The pair separates to attend their scheduled setups—but both prove disappointing in comparison. This is the beginning of “The Setup,” the first episode of Soon By You, which follows six young Modern Orthodox Jews through the trials and tribulations of dating in New York City. The first episode, which debuted in 2016, won Best Short at last year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival. Episode four—the most recent 30-minute installment—came out in late May.
Watch Soon By You on YouTube
The first episode begins with a warning: “The following contains references to adult situations and coarse language. In Yiddish. Viewer discretion is advised. Jewish discussion is inevitable.” Yidlife Crisis, created by Canadian thirty-somethings Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, is a comedy spoken entirely in Yiddish—with English subtitles, of course—that follows two Jewish friends, Chaimie (Elman) and Leizer (Batalion). They argue, they eat, they celebrate Christmas—with Yiddish versions of holiday standards, like “Yingl Bells.” (“Bells on bobtails ring / Lights on all the while / Oh what fun it is to laugh / And sing like a Gentile”). Actress Mayim Bialik starred in the season two episode “Double Date,” where she played Chaya, who goes on a blind date with Leizer (Chaimie comes along, too). Hoping to talk privately, Leizer and Chaimie speak to each other in Yiddish—until they realize that Chaya speaks Yiddish, too.
Watch Yidlife Crisis at yidlifecrisis.com
Avi Does the Holy Land
Avi Schwartzberger is a fictional Canadian blogger who “went on a Birthright trip and fell in love with Israel.” Avi Does the Holy Land, styled as a vlog and self-described as a “Borat meets Broad City mockumentary web-series,” satirizes the diaspora’s relationship with Israel and the idea of unconditional support for the Jewish homeland. “Apparently, there are some Jews that never got the ‘Hopelessly Devoted to Israel’ memo. That’s right! There are some Jews that criticize Israel!” Avi says in episode six, “Self-Hating Jews.” “You know that when you criticize Israel, a tiny, challah-shaped angel loses its wings.” Aviva Zimmerman, who plays Avi, sees the series as “an opportunity to show North American Jews of our generation that it’s OK to criticize Israel,” she told Haaretz. “And it’s OK to read up on the occupation and to speak up about the occupation. And that if you do, that it’s fine, there is still a place for you.”
Watch Avi Does the Holy Land at avidoestheholyland.com
Hip Hop in the Holy Land
Who was the first person to rap in Hebrew? What was the first Palestinian rap group to find success? What’s the hip hop scene like in Israel—and how is the landscape changing? Produced by Noisey, Vice Media’s series about music around the world, Hip Hop in the Holy Land explores the lives and stories of Israeli and Palestinian rappers. “[People say,] ‘Never make a documentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict. However you make it, people from all sides will say it’s biased,’” a narrator explains at the beginning of the first episode. “Well, we made one. It’s fine, we thought. It’s about music. But the situation here seeps into every part of daily life.”
Neviim: Operation Amram
Soon after Israel’s founding, hundreds of Yemenite families were told their young children had died. But many of those families now say their children were actually kidnapped, put up for adoption and raised by Ashkenazi families—and in recent years, using DNA tests, some of these children have reunited with their birth parents. In Neviim: Operation Amram, a Hebrew nonfiction web series with English subtitles, activists speak with some of these families. “We started with the understanding that the voices of the testifiers, the families, are the most interesting and the most important aspect of this story,” Elad Ben Elul, the series’ co-creator, told +972 Magazine. In episode two, one woman says she went to the hospital as a child, and her father was told she’d died. But when her father insisted on seeing her, threatening to look in every room of the hospital, the nurse relented and gave her back.
Rabbi Leah Levy’s synagogue is in trouble, so she opts to try something unorthodox: “We have to evangelize!” she says. “Christians evangelize—but Jews, we have a long history of excluding people.” This is the premise of Jewvangelist, a web series created in 2014 by Becky Kramer, who also plays the evangelizing rabbi. Throughout the series’ six episodes, Rabbi Levy tries out a number of conversion strategies from other religions. (“I hope you’re all enjoying the pizza,” she tells a group of teenagers in episode two, “Leah Goes to the Mormons.” “I’m Rabbi Levy, and today I’d like to tell you how awesome it is to be Jewish.”)
Watch Jewvangelist at jewvangelist.com
Old Jews Telling Jokes
The best ideas aren’t always rocket science, and this web series is exactly what it sounds like: In each video, someone—always Jewish, invariably old—tells a joke. Some of these jokes have been viewed thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of times. Most of the videos contain only one joke—usually 1-2 minutes long, they take their time getting to the punchline—though a few compile jokes by category. Are you interested only in sex and marriage jokes? Dirty jokes? Jewish mother jokes? Doctor jokes? Rabbi jokes? Jokes about old age? You’ve come to the right place.
Watch Old Jews Telling Jokes at oldjewstellingjokes.com
Perhaps Eighty-Sixed isn’t technically a Jewish web series—it isn’t about anything Jewish, per se—but it was created by Cazzie David, Larry David’s daughter, who told Complex that her influences were Nora Ephron and “some others I can’t think of right now, but they’re probably older Jewish men.” In the first episode of Eighty-Sixed, “Promise I’ll Win,” David plays Remi, a narcissistic millennial dealing with a recent breakup. Shenanigans involving social media, drones and iPhones necessarily follow.
Watch Eighty-Sixed at 86edwebseries.com
Produced in sub-five-minute increments, BimBam is a sort of video SparkNotes for Jewish tradition. Created “to make Jewish literacy accessible to everyone interested in learning,” according to its site, its animated videos are all about the basics: what to expect at a Jewish funeral, how to say a blessing over your children, how to play dreidel. It also publishes weekly parsha videos, as well as videos on Talmud, Psalms, Prophets and other texts. For younger audiences, BimBam’s animated series Shaboom! teaches Jewish values—being respectful, giving tzedakah, saying sorry—alongside Hebrew vocabulary words.
Watch BimBam at bimbam.com
“Saki, let’s go to Israel!” says Noriko. “Israel? Where in the world is Israel?” asks Saki. Produced by the Israeli Embassy in Japan, Israel, Like! is an anime web series, described by Jewniverse as “the perfect series for the anime-loving Zionist in your life” and by The Forward as “Israel’s anime propaganda video.” It follows Noriko and Saki, two sisters visiting Israel, and its goal is to encourage Japanese tourists to visit the country. (“This is different from my expectation!” one of the sisters proclaims upon entering the airport. “Israel’s advanced technology is also very high,” explains the other. “It is called ‘Silicon Valley of the Middle East.’”) Rest assured, there is also intrigue: At the end of episode one, Noriko reveals there is a problem in her marriage and that she traveled to Israel with her husband before they were married (it is their “memorable place,” she says). “Our trip in Israel seems to have a bumpy road ahead,” says Saki, just before the credits roll.
Watch Israel, Like! on YouTube