Earlier this year, we got wind of the fact that “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was going to Israel in its fifth season. And in the recently released third episode of the Amazon Prime show’s final season about comedian Miriam “Midge” Maisel, we indeed get that much-awaited Israel scene — and I have to say, it’s definitely not what I anticipated.
Every episode of season five features flash-forward scenes, showing us what happened to the show’s characters later in life. They focus on the relationships between Midge and her loved ones — including her two children, Esther and Ethan.
Midge has gotten a lot of flack throughout the years for her parenting — and this season, we get to see how it affects her relationships with her grown children.
In the opening of episode three, we get to see what has become of her son, Ethan, who is volunteering in a kibbutz. As the opening credits roll, we get to hear the voice of one of Israel’s best singers, the late and oh-so-great Ofra Haza. It’s a pleasure to hear this Mizrahi voice in a very Ashkenazi-focused show, especially because this specific song comes from her wonderful 1984 album “Yemenite Songs,” titled in English “Fifty Gates of Wisdom (Yemenite Songs).” It was the singer’s first international album.
Speaking of 1984, that’s the year we meet Ethan as an adult, played by a very charming Ben Rosenfield. The Israeli president is Chaim Hertzog — the father of current Israeli president Isaac Herzog — and Shimon Peres is prime minister (it was an election year, but when “Yemenite Songs” came out, Peres had already been elected).
Rosenfield, with his light brown curls, facial hair and brights eyes, wears tailored khaki pants and a striped shirt under a dirt-stained white button-up — the kibbutznik uniform, if you will. I have a feeling a lot of “Maisel” fans are suddenly crushing on this 29-year-old version of Ethan Maisel — and honestly, I may be one of them.
If Rosenfield looks familiar to you, you probably know him as Steve Buscemi’s nephew in “Boardwalk Empire” or as Cate Blanchett’s closeted son in “Mrs. America.” He also played Tevye in his middle school production of “Fiddler.” Kavod!
Ethan’s head is also covered by a yarmulke. While most kibbutzes were secular, there was a religious kibbutz movement that exists to this day. The 1980s was not a great time for Israeli kibbutzim, which were facing financial crisis, but Ethan’s kibbutz seems to be doing quite well.
(Fun fact: An actual famous Jew who volunteered in a kibbutz in the 1980s was Sacha Baron Cohen. Another famous Brit who volunteered on a kibbutz in 1984? Former British prime minister Boris Johnson.)
We see Ethan happily harvesting cabbage — it’s a great yield, a fellow kibbutznik yells at him in Hebrew, and he answers with a deeply accented Hebrew (which very much checks out for this character!) saying, “Elohim hebit lemata ve’chiyech,” which means, “God looked down and smiled.”
Then a strong wind blows and we hear the song of a helicopter. Fellow agriculturists seem scared of this unexpected flying vehicle, running in fear, and Ethan himself looks pretty terrified until he sees the glamorous middle-aged woman exiting the plane. It’s his mom. 1980s Midge is just a stylish as 1950s and 1960s Mrs. Maisel, but now, here she is, a famous Jewish comedian with her pink shawl and turban and big shades, setting foot in the Holy Land.
He assures everyone, again in Hebrew, not to worry, that it’s just his mother flying in from New York. “You would think they’ve never seen a Jewish mother before,” Midge says in her New York accent, echoing that overbearing Jewish mom caricature of time immemorial, and yet, unlike that stale stereotype, Midge is glamorous and successful and really funny.
When her son chides her for scaring everyone with her helicopter, she refutes him with, “Who would invade a lettuce farm? Health conscious antisemites who want a salad?”
It’s clear that Midge and her son are not very close — and that they don’t agree on much. Ethan is going to rabbinical school, which his mom carelessly calls “rabbi school,” and when she jokingly asks him if his training should take longer than a lawyer’s, he replies with a defensive yes. Again just like that stereotypical Jewish mom, Midge is unhappy with her son’s life choices, despite the fact that she herself took an untraditional career path.
While Midge is not very involved in her son’s career, she’s not worried about using him for clout — asking him to clean up and attend the ceremony where she’s being honored by the UJA Federations. After she asks him to shower twice, he tells her that there’s dignity in labor, and she jokes that her “labor” involved people staring at her “cabbage patch.” Ethan isn’t really a fan of his mom’s risqué jokes, it’s clear.
It’s then that Ethan reveals that he’s hidden a very big part of his life from his mother — namely, that he’s engaged to a Jewish woman named Chava, played by actress Yael Chanukov in her first major TV role. Just like her character, Chanukov was born in Israel, but grew up in the U.S.
Chava is a bit of a stereotype of a butch kibbutznik woman; when we meet her, she’s literally wielding a knife. In a (just OK) Israeli accent, Chava starts off her relationship with her mother-in-law with a diss about how marriage is a complicated topic for the Maisel matriarch (it is revealed that she was married four times). When Midge jokes about her divorces, Chava says in Hebrew, “Lo lehargish keev ze lo lihiyot enoshi,” which means “not to feel pain is not to be human.” It’s not really a very natural Hebrew statement, but let’s face it, all Maisel dialogue is stylized, and it is a bit of a sick burn.
When Midge asks Chava if her parents are also “kibbutzers,” Chava says in a fast-paced Sherman-Palladino cadence that she was born in Tel Aviv but grew up in Minnesota, where her father was the head of surgery of the Mayo Clinic. She recounts that she came to Israel and volunteered as a paratrooper, broke her leg in four places on one mission and had to set her leg by herself — and sleep on a date tree.
“I still get teased about that,” Chava laments.
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“Be faithful to that one, or she’ll rip your nuts out and plant them next to the onions,” Midge later warns her son, and he vows that he will. Then, there’s melancholy in her eyes as she tells him, “You should’ve told me you had a fiancé.” Ethan apologizes, but it’s clear that they both know why he didn’t feel the need to rush to his mother with his life-altering news. While there’s love between the two, the relationship is strained.
“I don’t like her,” Chava says, watching Midge’s chopper ascend, making it clear that this new addition to the family will only add to the rift between Midge and her son.
“Well, she’s my mother,” Ethan says, resigned.
And that is where we leave the fields of the Israeli kibbutz — a scene that was shot in Long Island, alas, and not on location.
As for the setting, the kibbutz scene does feel realistic enough — the fields, the containers used to harvest the cabbage, the plastic cups that the Maisels drink from are all reminiscent of kibbutz dinning rooms. I’m not sure where Midge took her helicopter from, because she certainly didn’t fly on it all the way from New York. Either way, it’s a fun period visit to Israel.
We’ll get to see Ethan again in episode six of the last season, in a more familiar, and still very Jewish, setting, along with Chava, who will pepper the show with a little bit more spoken Hebrew.
Do I wish we could’ve gotten even more of “Maisel” in Israel? Maybe a little camel ride, or a Midge visit to Jerusalem, or hanging out on the Tel Aviv boardwalk? Sure. But I’m happy the show doesn’t end without at least this little glimpse of the Jewish state.