The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem
- Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) language, culture, and history
- Sephardi-Ashkenazi relations
- Arab-Jewish relations
- Ethics and Pre-State Jewish underground defense organizations
This period drama series, based on a bestselling novel, tells the story of three generations of the Ermoza family in Jerusalem, spanning from the early to the mid-20th century. Under the surface of Sephardic folklore and the all-important facade of honor and decorum lies the story of a troubled family whose sons and daughters carry with them a curse of loveless marriages. At the center of the story are Gabriel Armoza, his mother Mercada, his wife Rosa, and their three daughters: Becky, Rachelika, and the eldest Luna, who is known as the “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.” The loveless marriage of Gabriel and Rosa appears in stark contrast to Gabriel’s love for his daughter Luna. Rosa’s jealousy of the love that her daughter receives, as well as Rosa’s blind devotion to her troubled brother, impacts her mental health and causes deep conflicts within the family.
The series takes place on several timelines simultaneously. Present and past family stories are intertwined, providing an additional, deeper meaning of history, drama, and destiny.
The story of the affluent family is set against the backdrop of resistance to the Ottoman regime and later to that of the British in pre-State Israel. It seamlessly weaves in other historic milestones and narratives from the early days of Israel.
1. What can be learned about Jerusalem’s history and culture from watching the series? What were the relationships between Jews of different backgrounds and origins, between Jews and Arabs? How is Jerusalem different today?
2. The series presents violence as a sometimes necessary, sometimes tragic tool. In your opinion, how might, or might not, the old saying that “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” relate to the situations in pre-State Israel as depicted in the series? In what ways might this still resonate today?
Ladino Language (Judeo-Spanish, culture, and history)
For centuries, Ladino and its dialects were the common language amongst Sepharadi Jews, similar to how Yiddish functioned for Ashkenazi Jews. The language was developed by the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal). During the 15th century, Sephardic Jews spoke the same Spanish as anyone else in the area. Over time it developed into its own language, influenced by Portuguese, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other nearby languages. After Jews were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Ladino continued to be their common language for communication, poetry, and songs.
In Israel, especially in close-knit communities of which the Ermoza family is a part, family honor, customs, superstitions, and other cultural aspects were honored and preserved. However, for many years, Israelis were discouraged from using any language other than Hebrew, and Ladino was thus used only by the older generation. In the last few decades, Ladino has been revived, especially in songs, and enjoyed by new generations in Israel and around the world.
Explore more about the history of Ladino.
Life in Jerusalem of pre-state Israel—Nachlaot Neighborhood
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem takes place in Jerusalem, in the Nachlaot neighborhood. This unique part of the city is made up of a cluster of two dozen tiny courtyards, each with a different Sephardi or Ashkenazi community surrounding it. Each tiny “neighborhood” has its own synagogue and traditions.
Nowadays, visiting the neighborhood reveals old traditions and new hip trends existing side by side.
Learn more about this unique Jerusalem neighborhood.
Explore photographs of life in the decades preceding the founding of Israel.
Sephardi-Ashkenazi and Arab-Jewish divide
The series depicts the rift between the different Jewish ethnic groups in Jerusalem. The Sephardim saw themselves as the original Jerusalemites and the Ashkenazim as the newcomers. At the time the series takes place, members of different groups were adamant about not mixing, especially when it came to marriage.
Throughout the series, there is also a palpable tension between Jews and Arabs, especially during periods of violence in the 1920s and 1930s.
Jewish underground defense organizations
From the beginning of the 20th century until 1948, several Jewish underground organizations were established to protect the Jewish population from the local Arabs and to oppose foreign rule—first the Ottomans and then the British. They had a diverse and controversial role in the history of pre-state Israel, they gained support and faced opposition within communities and families, and eventually shaped the Israeli political map. Their stories are present throughout The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.
Each of the three main groups, the Haganah, Etzel, and Lechi had a different policy regarding the intensity of the actions necessary against the Arabs and the British. In many cases, their actions caused public uproar among the Jewish leadership and among the public. The poignant questions at the center of these debates were about whether the goal of establishing a Jewish state, with acts of violence and, arguably, terrorism, could be justified.
Later, during World War II another dilemma arose about fighting the British when they were fighting against Nazi Germany. At this point, many Jewish men and women volunteered in the British Army to participate in the war effort against the Nazis.
Learn more about the Pre-IDF brigades in this video.
Learn more about the Jewish volunteers in the British Army during WWII from this short history.
“The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’ makes its amazing, much-awaited debut“ by Hannah Brown, The Jerusalem Post. A quick overview of the show, actors, and more.
“The Problem with ‘The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’” by Michael Oren, Tablet Magazine. A critique of the historical accuracy of the series.
“Does Netflix’s ‘Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’ live up to the hype?” by Alan Zeitlin at JNS.