This globally-relevant tale centers on the burning issues of identity, religion, politics and personal freedom.
A dystopian drama starring some of Israel's top acting talent, Autonomies is a globally-relevant tale centering on the burning issues of identity, religion, politics, and personal freedom. The story is set in an alternate reality of near-future day Israel, torn by a civil war, and divided by a wall into the secular “State of Israel,” with Tel Aviv as its capital, and the “Haredi Autonomy” in Jerusalem, run by an ultra-Orthodox religious group. Living in the Autonomy, amongst this uneasy territorial status quo, is Broide, a Haredi wheeler-dealer who makes his living smuggling minor contraband between the two regions.
One day he receives a life-changing job offer: he is asked to kidnap a little girl at the heart of a custody battle between two families—one Haredi and one secular—and smuggle her across the border between the two territories. This “Solomon's Trial” of a legal saga, followed by the kidnapping of the child, fuels a dramatic uproar that threatens to tear a fragile country to pieces. Meanwhile, an impossible love story develops between Broide and Anna, a musician from the opposite side of the wall. Dramatically strong and thematic, their ill-advised love affair symbolically unites a divided nation, if only for a moment. With Israel once again aflame and civil war closer than ever, a great longing for home arises from among the fragments, walls and tears.
Two relatively new words have been added to the discourse: Hadata and Hadara, a testament to the widening rift between the secular and the Ultra-Orthodox.
Hadata is a trend of imbedding religious content and meaning in the public sphere, as well as the strengthening of religious elements in society. This includes public educational institutions, the army, cultural events, etc. The secular sector sees this drive as undermining the necessary balance between the Jewish and the democratic nature of Israel, and muddying the separation between religion and state.
Hadara has come to refer to the exclusion of women from the public sphere. The policy of gender segregation and, in some cases, the outright exclusion of women, has gone from being relegated to the ultra-Orthodox sector of the Israeli public, to now spilling into Israeli society as a whole. The effects of Hadata are becoming more apparent and the consequences of this erasure are being felt.
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Incident Yearned to Occur”
The first episode of the series is a perfect place to start exploring the world of Autonomies since many of the characters and themes are present. Here are a few insights and explanations for things learners might have missed or want to know more about.
The opening scene at the airport sets the stage for the conflict that will drive the plot—a family finds out there is a departure prohibition order for their daughter, and they cannot leave the country. The reason for this will be revealed during the episode.
The opener of the series reads: “Things turned out differently. A civil war tore the State of Israel in two. A secular state with Tel Aviv as its capital, and a religious autonomy with Jerusalem as its capital.” We later find out that the split happened 30 years earlier.
The border between the two states contains a wall and a gate. This is not a wall that was built on a film set, but rather the actual separation wall between Israel and the West Bank. The sign reads, “Welcome to the Jewish Autonomy in the Holy Land” in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. The flag and the emblem of the Autonomy include a Keter Torah (Torah crown) and the outline of the old city wall, which express clearly that the Autonomy is Jewish and Orthodox.
The guards check for contraband items, including adult movies, popular music tapes, pork meat, classic and secular literature, and even children’s books such as Mitz Petel (Raspberry Juice), a popular book for Israeli kids—all of which are prohibited by the Autonomy.
In the series, Jerusalem is portrayed as an extension of the Haredi neighborhoods. The Knesset is boarded up and has a large bulletin board plastered with Pashkevils at the entrance. Pashkevils are black and white posters typically placed in Haredi Neighborhood. They might forbid the use of cell phones or the internet, demand that visitors be clothed in modest garb, announce deaths or publicize an upcoming lecture by a great sage.
The Rebbe’s address to his crowd (at 32:48) is a call to arms: “Am Yisrael [the people of Israel] will not give up on any of his sons or daughters. We will not let the secular state take our children to distraction. (…)We will not let the Zionists steal our children.” This statement is at the crux of the division the Autonomy makes between Jews and Zionists, which is to assume they cannot be both.
At the center of the plot is Broide, our bridge between the two worlds. He is an ultra-Orthodox “macher” (literally: a person who gets things done), a complex character who travels between the two states in the guise of transporting bodies of Jews that have died in the secular State into the Autonomy if they wish to have a religious burial. All the while using his van to smuggle illicit materials banned by the Autonomy, hidden in the coffin.
The residents of the Autonomy choose to live separated from the secular society in the State. They prefer homogeneity to diversity.
1. Can you understand a desire for homogeneity in any community? Why?
2. Is your community diverse? In what ways?
3. Are there pros and cons to either (homogeneity and diversity)?
4. What are the areas of conflict between the residents of the Autonomy and the State? What are some ways to resolve these issues?
5. What are some commonalities that the two states have?
Israel is defined as a Jewish and democratic state.
1. Are both concepts equally important? One more than the other? Why?
1. What are some new things you learned about Israelis and Israel that you didn’t know before?
2. Did you have assumptions before watching the series that proved to be false, true, or somewhere in between? Explain.